13 Things About Ed Carpolotti

December 12, 2012

59E59 Theaters  –  December 4 – 30

Is this cabaret? Is it theatre? Does it matter? This hour-long piece by Barry Kleinbort (based on a short play by Jeffrey Hatcher) is being presented in the cabaret space of a multi-theatre complex. Penny Fuller, who has been both stage actress and cabaret singer over her long and distinguished career, is essentially a solo performer here—although she is accompanied on piano by musical director Paul Greenwood, as a character supposedly visible and audible only to Virginia. The result most feels like a short story with music.

Fuller plays Virginia Carpolotti, Ed’s new widow and wife of 40-some years. Her spoken and sung narrative recounts their life together and her discoveries, only since his recent death, of Ed’s many nefarious business dealings in their leafy Northeastern town. Yes, she signed some papers he put in front of her, without reading them, but now what was in them all comes out in a series of phone calls from, and furtive meetings with, his quondam business associates. The end result seems to be that Virginia will quickly go broke and lose the beloved old house she lived in for the whole of her marriage. Fuller imbues Virginia with a ditzy dignity (she can’t even remember where or how she and Ed met) and only slight sentimentality, which seems appropriate and is certainly welcome. We like Virginia, even as we may scold her for her period-typical wifely disregard for financial details.

Kleinbort, who wrote the music and lyrics, adapted the libretto, and also directed 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti, has combined all of the elements gracefully. His melodies are lovely, and his lyrics, while mostly deliberately tied to the specific content of the story (such as a paean to her house), are apt. Two songs that could well stand alone are a nifty 1950s rocker, “You Are My Happiness” (a duet with Greenwood), and “One More Spring,” Virginia’s lament at the cutting short of her married life. Fuller’s frequent bursts into song always seem organic, not shoehorned in, and are explained by her character’s propensity for humming whenever she’s nervous or apprehensive, which her story gives her every reason to be—often. The creator, Kleinbort, and the interpreter, Fuller, share a rare unity of vision that completely ensnares the viewer.

It’s not clear why Kleinbort chose to have Virginia tell her tale mostly in the present tense, which at times can be jarring—giving me somewhat the same reaction as I have when I hear Doris Kearns Goodwin saying on television such phrases as “Lincoln goes into the cabinet room….” But I forgive Kleinbort totally, thanks to his twist at the end, which is worthy of O. Henry.



About the Author

Robert Windeler is the author of 18 books, including biographies of Mary Pickford, Julie Andrews, Shirley Temple, and Burt Lancaster. As a West Coast correspondent for The New York Times and Time magazine, he covered movies, television and music, and he was an arts and entertainment critic for National Public Radio. He has contributed to a variety of other publications, including TV Guide, Architectural Digest, The Sondheim Review, and People, for which he wrote 35 cover stories. He is a graduate of Duke University in English literature and holds a masters in journalism from Columbia, where he studied critical writing with Judith Crist. He has been a theatre critic for Back Stage since 1999, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and is a member of The Players and the American Theatre Critics Association.