Cole Porter’s cheeky, clever songs have played an integral role in Broadway and Hollywood history, and his life was definitely fascinating. To this day, there is much debate as to whether the famous songwriter was gay or bisexual. One way or another, it is clear that Cole did not conform to society’s standards of the time. And that put a strain on his marriage to Linda Porter, the primary focus and storyteller of the one-actor musical “Love, Linda,” running through Jan. 13 at Cinnabar Theater.
Primarily a juke-box musical, showcasing such favorite tunes as “So in Love,” the play features a (minimal) book by Stevie Holland and Gary William Friedman, and stars cabaret Bay Area singer Maureen McVerry, appearing as Linda.
“Love, Linda” propounds that Linda was a major influence on Porter’s songs. In the play, she remarks decidedly that Cole “honored my opinion” while finessing lyrics, and emphasizes her passion for furthering his career as an artist. Did Cole propose to Linda for convenience, or did he truly love her? Despite personal foibles, he sincerely respected her, even commissioning a pink hybrid rose called “Linda Porter.” In the play, when describing naysayers regarding the couple’s affection, she comments, “marriage is not a can of soup.”
In other words, it does not conform to pre-made labels.
The relationship — whether as devoted friends or romantic partners — is certainly worth exploring in more depth. Which makes “Love, Linda” a frustrating experience. Tidbits of their life together are shoehorned in between songs, which seem superfluous to the conversation. The con-stant starting and stopping gives a disjointed impression, and an artificial break at intermission further interrupts the flow.
McVerry as Linda is elegant and mesmerizing, but she is often too soft-spoken to be heard without a microphone. Her singing, especially the quieter romantic interludes, like “I Love Paris,” are drowned out by the band, which is marvelous, but too overpowering in the small space. McVerry is expressive and captivating during “Tale of the Oyster,” and has an inviting personality that connects with her audience. It is a shame that her delightful performance is so often inaudible.
Her tasteful, flattering gowns were designed by Ellen Howes, and Wayne Hovey created the luxurious set with an ornate sideboard and vintage hat stand. Projections appear during crucial moments, with photographs of the topics being discussed. It is helpful to have visuals with the narration, from the attractive dancer Boris Kochno, with whom Porter had an affair, to a cinematic poster advertising “Kiss Me Kate.”
Music director and pianist Cesar Cancino leads an impressive trio of musicians, who take full advantage of the jazzy instrumental arrangements by Friedman. If there had been better sound balancing with McVerry, they would be a formidable team.
“Love, Linda” fails to live up to its potential, with static, disappointing direction from Clark Sterling and a severe sound issue. Despite its problems, McVerry’s vibrant performance manages to shine through, as she injects curiosity into Cole Porter’s compelling story.
PLANNING TO GO?
What: ‘Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter’
When: December 14-January 15. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2. A New Year’s Eve show and gala takes place at 9 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31.
Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.
Admission: $25-$75. Tickets available at 763-8920 or at Cinnabartheater.org