Mario Fratti’s Six Passionate Women, currently on view at Theater for the New City, concerns a creatively (and sexually) frustrated Italian filmmaker and the women from whom he seeks inspiration for his next movie. Nino (Dennis Parlato) is a cad who aims to spark his imagination by crawling into bed with multiple partners. He’s also a pied piper, with all six passionate women of the title under his spell.
Sonia (Giulia Bisinella) is trying to seduce Nino and land a leading role in his film. The motherly Valia (Donna Vivino), like Sonia, wants to see her name in lights. Nino’s wife, Marianna (Coleen Sexton), is in denial about her husband’s transgressions, though her best friend (Laine Rettmer) tries to tip her off about Nino’s infidelity. Franca (Carlotta Brentan), Nino’s loyal assistant, has fallen in love with the boss, despite her usual levelheadedness. Then Mrs. Gunmore (Ellen Barber) arrives on the scene. A rich American widow, embittered by years of living with an unfaithful husband, she promises Nino funds to produce his film. What she really wants is to lure him into creating a film that will reveal his hatred of women. As the drama proceeds, the six passionate women band together to punish Nino for the impact he has had on their lives.
With a running time of only 90 minutes, Six Passionate Women suffers from too many plot lines, too little time. The narrative is unfocused and the characters underdeveloped. Without knowing the characters sufficiently, the audience cannot care about them. There are a number of interesting scenes in the play, but Fratti leaves crucial questions unaddressed. For example, it’s clear that Nino and Marianna have a deep love for each other, despite Nino’s inability to be satisfied by one woman. How did they meet? When did he first stray? How and why has she put up with it for so long? There is a perplexing point at which the play’s focus shifts from the women manipulating Nino to make a film about his misogyny to the women making a film about hating Nino. Adding to the confusion are the facts that Fratti never convinces his audience that Nino hates women or that any of the women other than Mrs. Gunmore believe that Nino is a bad person.
Fratti collaborated with playwright Arthur Kopit and composer Maury Yeston on Nine, the 1983 Broadway musical adapted from Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical film 8-1/2. Nine, which garnered seven Tony Awards, concerns a blocked filmmaker on location in Venice with a number of passionate women. Six Passionate Women reportedly served as an early inspiration or template for the musical’s libretto. If Six Passionate Women is viewed as a “draft” of the musical to come, the lack of structure and focus suddenly makes much more sense.
The play, ably directed by Stephan Morrow, is well-acted by a cast of eight. (In addition to Nino and his six women, there is another man, best friend William, played by Kevin Sebastian). The production’s lighting, costumes and set are dull and uninspired. Audiences will be charmed by the performances of Parlato and Brentan, who give the production its style and verve. But they're likely to leave the theater wishing they'd spent the evening with the passionate women of 8-1/2 or Nine.
Six Passionate Women plays through Oct. 26 at Theater for the New City, 155 1st Ave., between 9th and 10th streets. Tickets can be purchased here.