Far From Heaven: Connecticut Comes to Boston (3 Stars)

Far From Heaven, a New Musical.  Book by Richard Greenberg. Music by Scott Frankel. Lyrics by Michael Korie. Directed by Scott Edmiston. Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston Center for the Arts, 525 Tremont Street Boston through October 11.

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Far From Heaven” has all the appeal of a beautiful work of art – a minimalist but elegantly moveable set, fabulous period costumes, and a talented cast of performers. I loved the Todd Haynes film with its noir-ish feel and the tension beneath the golden suburban lives in the late 1950’s. From the moment the radiant Cathy (Jennifer Ellis) comes onstage and sings a glowing tribute to autumn in her home state of Connecticut, you know she’s headed for a fall.  

Beautiful Cathy is married to the handsome and successful Frank (Jared Troilo). Her ability to host perfect corporate parties and wear a cocktail dress gracefully makes her the envy of all her friends.  But Frank is hiding a secret that isolates them both and threatens to tear apart their blissful union. Too ashamed to confide in any of her friends, Cathy finds herself turning to the one person she feels will understand – her widowed single-parent gardener, Raymond Deagan. This friendship is not without problems, as this is Connecticut in the 50s and Raymond is black.

The biggest problem with “Far From Heaven” is that unlike the film, it’s a musical.  The music is, at best, lugubrious.  One song blends into the next; there’s not a single memorable tune from the show.  “It’s boring,” whispered my companion midway through, no stranger to the musical theater scene himself. And honestly, the show doesn’t need it – there’s enough drama going on without the need for a musical interjection every three to five minutes. It’s a testimony to the actors that they were able to find the notes in what sounded like multiple tuneless dirges.  

Jennifer Ellis shines as Cathy. Her essence is so undeniably good that when her husband strikes her and she starts to cry, you just want to cry with her.  Despite her naivete, there’s something about Ellis’s Cathy that has the audience rooting for her, even as her world is crumbling. Frank, her husband, is harder to grasp, as Jared Troilo appears angry for most of Act One. But when he reveals in the song “I Never Knew” that he actually never thought he could care for someone, Troilo opens up in a way that makes the character sympathetic. Maurice Emmanuel Parent, as Raymond, gives the role dignity and empathy. Kerry A. Dowling is marvelous as Mrs. Leacock, the socialite reporter. And the kids!  Audree Hedequist and Josh Sussman as Janice and David Whitaker are natural and funny, a nice break from the posing of the adults around them.

Eric Levenson’s scenic design complements Scott Edmiston’s crisp direction: picture frames of various sizes slide on and off the stage, as well as couches, tables, and doors.  Costume designer Charles Schoonmaker does a wonderful job of outfitting the cast in gorgeous period clothing.  If they could just eliminate the music and play this show for the drama that it is, I think that it would be a winner. For more info, go to: http://www.speakeasystage.com/far-fromheaven/http://www.speakeasystage.com/far-fromheaven/