Monday, January 16, 2017

[headline of review]

[title of show] -- Playhouse on Park -- thru Jan.29

Peej Mele, Miles Jacoby, Amanda Forker, Ashley Brooke,
Austin Cook. Photo by Photo by Meredith Atkinson

I am sitting at my desk at 6:54 a.m. writing a review of [title of show], which I saw on Sunday at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford. I am drinking a cup of coffee and weighing whether I should call the musical a meta-musical, because it’s a musical about itself, about the writing of a musical. An image comes to mind – [title of show] is akin to an embryo writing about its own gestation, so maybe it’s an embryonic musical. That image is supplanted by the word “solipsistic,” because [title of show] is absorbed with itself. Right now I’m not sure what tag I will use.

It’s now 7:03 a.m. The elements of a review require that I now give a hint about what I think about the production being reviewed. That’s because most people don’t read beyond the first or second paragraph of a review. I want to do this, but what I really want to write about at this point is a lady with a walker who sat in the first row house left (there were many people with walkers at this matinee performance – as they gathered to enter the house it reminded me of that scene from The Producers when all the potential backers of Springtime for Hitler [all ladies of a certain age] do a chorus line number). In any event, about 30 minutes into the show this lady stood up and, hands on her walker, toddled to her left, then she turned and walked to her right, then turned and again walked to her left, then right, then left. Given that the Playhouse is configured as a thrust stage, the five actors, Miles Jacoby as Jeff, Peej Mele as Hunter, Ashley Brooke as Susan, Amanda Forker as Heidi and Austin Cook as the pianist, Larry, must have seen her and wondered, “What the hell is she doing?”

Well, 14 minutes have elapsed and I still haven’t given that hint. My bad. Okay, the production is enjoyable but the performances are a bit uneven and the last 10 or 15 minutes of this one-act show seem to go on forever. There, that’s done. Now, what’s next. Oh, yes, a little bit of exposition, background, etc.

Well – wait, I have to get a coffee refill ------------------- Hi, back again. Okay, so back in 2004 Hunter Bell learns that the New York Musical Theater Festival is seeking submissions. The only problem is, the deadline is three weeks away. Undaunted, Bell, with his friend Jeff Bowen, a composer and lyricist, proceed to create a musical about, well, doing what they’re doing: creating a musical. They enlist the help of two actresses, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff, and the effort becomes a chronicle of their efforts. The musical gets six performances at the festival (lots of revisions), is work-shopped at the Eugene O’Neil Theater Center (lots of revisions), finally makes it to Off-Broadway (Obie awards! Lots of revisions) and then – Broadway! Okay, enough of that.

What’s next? Well, I haven’t yet told you who directed this production. That would be David Edwards, a theater pro who is very familiar to Ivoryton Playhouse patrons, having starred in the Playhouse’s production of La Cage aux Folles and directed the outstanding staging of South Pacific. The challenge for Edwards is that [title of show] seems to cry out for presentation in a proscenium format, i.e., the audience members all staring in one direction at what is going on up on the stage. In blocking this production, Edwards had to take into account that the patrons are viewing the goings-on from three different directions. He succeeds up to a point, but there are moments – chief among them when Heidi does a quasi-nudity reveal and must turn so that the entire audience gets to see her juggling her brassiered breasts – that draw attention to themselves. Thus, the energy of the musical, which should be thrust forward out at the audience, is, by necessity, somewhat diffused.

Okay, another cup of coffee and a quick check of emails – just received my electricity bill and two people want to be Friends on Facebook (don’t know either one of them). Oh, look, a new version of Adobe Acrobat is available. Sorry. Back to the review. What’s up next? Oh, yes, the acting. Well, let’s just say it’s early days for this ensemble – the show runs through January 29 – and the disparate performances may very well find a common ground. Right now, these “friends” simply don’t seem to mesh in terms of energy levels. Mele, as the overtly gay book writer, seems to own the stage, challenged only by Brooke’s barefoot portrayal of Susan, who uses excellent body language to punctuate her lines and does a knock-out rendition of “Die, Vampire. Die!” Jacoby and Forker, at least at this point in production run, have yet to “find” their characters. They deliver their lines well but there’s yet no sense of who these characters are – in essence they’ve yet to find the “juice” that will allow Jeff and Heidi to come alive, though Forker does shine when she and Brooke have their moment alone onstage in “Secondary Characters.”

Now, what’s required is a wrap-up, and given the nature of a review I must return to how I opened and determine what as yet hasn’t been explained. Oops – a phone call – at 8:14 no less! – from a company that wants me to consider my electricity-supplier options. Okay, so what about the last 10 or 15 minutes of the show? Well, I search for an image or metaphor. None comes to mind (bad writer – bad writer). What am I trying to convey? At the end of the (heavily revised) show there’s just a lot a yackety-yack when there should be a “rush” towards a conclusion. It’s not the time for exposition – a litany of then this happened and then this happened. You know there’s something wrong when the audience has to be told that this is the final line of the show – that should be inherent in the line itself and the emotions that have led up to it.

[title of show], a meta-embryonic-solipsistic musical, runs through January 29. For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900, X10, or go to

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