Camille at Quintessence Theater

In 1848, 23-year old Alexandre Dumas fils wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about his love affair with a courtesan who was suffering with tuberculosis, then called consumption. Four years later, he turned “Camille”  into such a successful play opening in Paris.  Giuseppe Verdi put it to music the next year. Thus was born the famed opera, “La Traviata.”

            Lest I lead you in the wrong direction, the author of the play is not the well known  author of “The Three Musketeers,” Alexandre Dumas, but his illegitimate son. The word “fils” is attached to the son’s name- it is a translation from the French, meaning “son.”

            Quintessence Theatre has produced the original play on its intimate theater-in-the round space with a fine cast, led by Billie Wyatt as Camille. She fights her illness as she struggles with how to handle her life as she is pursued by two men. She doesn’t trust her judgment, but soon falls in love with Armand (Dax Richardson), while trying to fend off Count de Varville (Lee Thomas Cortopassi).

            There are other relationships we learn about through talk… and there’s plenty of talk. In fact, there’s very little action in the play and it is often difficult to absorb all that the ten characters are saying, particularly when he or she has their back to your side of the audience and they talk softly without mics. Though their stories are interesting, they go on and on. We can’t see the passion of the characters and it is not film, where the camera can move when the actors don’t. We do have the wonderful costumes designed by Anna Sorrentino to look at, fortunately. Director Steven Anthony Wright could have been more creative in the staging of the play with this talented group of actors. But slowly, very slowly, the story emerges.

            One theme of the play is jealousy. We watch the other two couples as they toy and tease each other. We see Armand’s jealousy of Varville. But the crisis comes when Armand’s father steps in and tries to convince Camille not to run off with his son, lest it wreak havoc for Armand’s sister, who would be shamed and unable to marry her fiancé.

            The play is 2 ½ hours long and in today’s theater world, that’s a long time to sit through conversation after conversation and many monologues. Perhaps it is just me. I haven’t even attempted to see a 2 ½ hour play by the great William Shakespeare in several years. After all, “Camille” is a major play in the history of theater. I am curious to see the musical that Verdi turned the play into and wonder  if it will hold my attention more. It was one of the most performed operas for well over a hundred years.

“Camille”  at Quintessence Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., Phila, PA 19119, 215-987-4450.  Thru July 3, 2022.

This review appeared late because I contracted Covid and was out of circulation.

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