Culture Clunk: The Stendhal Syndrome Artlessly Revives Two Terrence McNally Playlets about Our Reaction to Art

By Shewey, Don | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), March 30, 2004 | Go to article overview

Culture Clunk: The Stendhal Syndrome Artlessly Revives Two Terrence McNally Playlets about Our Reaction to Art


Shewey, Don, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


The Stendhal Syndrome

* Written by Terrence McNally * Directed by Leonard Foglia * Starring Isabella Rossellini and Richard Thomas * Primary Stages, New York City (through March 27)

Hollywood screenwriters get big bucks for churning out dialogue in which characters spew their nastiest, smuttiest thoughts, so why shouldn't a Tony award-winning playwright like Terrence McNally go the lowest-common-denominator route? The Stendhal Syndrome, McNally's new off-Broadway show, consists of two one-act plays. In Full Frontal Nudity three American tourists are ushered by a tour guide into the Accademia Gallery in Florence to view Michelangelo's David, and we get to hear their mostly idiotic reactions to the artwork, to Italy, to the tour, and to each other. "My best friend in high school, Mikey Nussbaum, had balls like that," says Leo, the straight-guy Jersey sleazeball who's fixated on the Carrara marble genitals in front of him. "How old was David when he posed for Michelangelo?" the self-centered blond Lana asks the multilingual tour guide, whose name is Bimbi. Get the picture?

Prelude & Liebestod focuses on a world famous orchestra conductor (think Leonard Bernstein) during a performance of that popular Wagner concert piece. While the sublime music plays (in its entirety, twice), we hear the conductor's mundane internal monologue--a jumble of narcissistic preening, erotic yearning, and scathing commentary about the concertmaster, the soprano, his wife, and a young man cruising him from the balcony (we hear their thoughts spoken aloud too). …

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