The Toronto production of Against the Grain’s A Little Too Cozy opened last night at Studio 42 at the CBC Centre. It’s the third and final instalment in the series of Ivany/Mokzrewski adaptations of the Mozart/da Ponte operas, following on from Figaro’s Wedding and #UncleJohn. Like the earlier pieces it’s updated, site specific and makes a lot of references to social media. The schtick here is that it’s a reality TV dating show. Dora and Felicity are yet to meet Elmo and Fernando in the flesh though they have become engaged via social media and through the prior episodes of the show. Tonight is the season finale and there is one big test left. Can they be tempted by two strange men? Show host Donald L. Fonzo and girl handler Despina will make sure they are maximally tempted. The rest you can work out.
It works really well. The setting is visually perfect, although there’s a bit of an acoustical price to be paid for using a cavernous TV studio, and a crowd of fussy supers adds to the atmosphere. The fact that the girls have never seen their boyfriends neatly circumvents the major plot hole in the da Ponte and the other gags are worked pretty well. The costuming (Snezana Pesic) is wicked from Fonzo’s suit borrowed from Hockey Night in Canada (filmed in the next studio over) to the coy/tarty bridal gowns (all veil and bare thigh) of the final act.
There’s some very good singing across the board. The big arias get a very singable treatment. I especially liked Shantelle Przybylo’s appropriately OTT take on Come scoglio but really there aren’t any weak links. The acting is terrific. Cairan Ryan is perfect as the smarmy Fonzo and Caitlin Wood somehow manages to like quite prim as Despina while being anything but. The guys and girls are played in kind of the classic way with Clarence Frazer’s robust, even agressive, Elmo contrasting with the quieter Fernando of Aaron Sheppard and Shantelle’s Felicity trying much harder to be a “good girl” than Rihab Chaieb’s more sensual and adventurous Dora. The singing, in English without surtitles, is perfectly comprehensible most of the time though of course words get lost in ensembles and in the more florid female numbers. No one will have any difficulty figuring out what’s going on though the occasional joke probably goes begging.
The instrumental music is provided by music director Topher Mokrzewski at the piano supported by a string quartet. As with the two earlier Mozart adaptations it turns out to be perfectly adequate. Certainly much better than just piano. There’s no pit so the band is placed stage left. From where I was; centre and towaards the back the balance was fine but I’m told being too close to the band is best avoided.With judicious cuts and a lot of recits replaced by dialogue the piece comes in at around two hours plus an interval.
Expectations for this show were pretty high and I’d say they were met. if you enjoyed the previous shows you will be very satisfied with this one. There are five more shows between now and the 21st and the space is fairly big so the chances of scoring tickets are probably better than some previous AtG shows. One warning note. Getting to the show involves getting through CBC security and up to the 6th(?) floor with an escort so don’t plan on showing up just before curtain time.
Photo credits: Against the Grain Theatre’s A Lttle Too Cozy. Photo: Darryl Block