“Lisa MacGregor utterly steals the show, stuffs it, mounts it, and hangs it in pride of place.”
Four ordinary lives experienced through the inner lives of four typical New Yorkers. We enter to find one of them, Warren, hard at work distributing fliers like it’s the Royal Mile in August. His fliers are pop art. They feature words of wisdom and insight which (almost inevitably) go entirely unnoticed by Manhattan’s madding crowd. It’s an epically subtle hint that the dramas that are about to be played out occur in a time before Facebook walls and Twitter timelines.
The show’s lyricist/composer, Adam Gwon, is a Bostonian by birth but a New Yorker by choice. In his four person sung through musical, first performed in 2008, Gwon captures and distills the essence of what it is to be alone in the big city. It’s a powerfully big, yet graciously small, set of stories requiring strong, yet subtle, hands. Jason and Claire are alone in a relationship together, unable to break through an unseen wall between them. Meanwhile, the uptight grad student Deb is alone without the notes for her thesis which she has left on the subway. Warren is alone running menial errands for a much better known artist.
Warren is not yet everything he could be – and that’s putting it charitably. He’s going with the flow rather than rising to his full potential. A character who might so easily have been played as comically trivial is given an authenticity, gravity, and dignity by Duncan Burt who brings to the happy go lucky Warren a pitch-perfect balance of the playful and the soulful.
As Deb, Dora Gee wryly captures most of the on stage laughs some of which are definitely at the expense of her highly strung, yet flaky character, her many, many hang ups and occasional pretensions. It is said that opposites attract, but to bring two such divergent individuals into alignment in a manner so captivating and real is a remarkable feat of theatrical artistry. Any producers out there scouting for talent with which to people the next hit TV sitcom should look no further than Burt and Gee for the leads.
As Jason and Claire, James Edge and Lisa MacGregor breathe life into two seemingly stuffy characters (is ‘basic’ too harsh a description?). Here are a couple entirely without the quirkiness of Deb and Warren. Many surprises – good, bad, Earth shattering – come out of a clear blue sky. But the final twist of the narrative, the moment at which Lisa MacGregor utterly steals the show, stuffs it, mounts it, and hangs it in pride of place – that moment is the result of a steady clouding over of the dramatic horizon in collusion with Edge. They’ve spent their time in the spotlight carefully laying down a thick fog that blankets us until we can see no further than the taxi cab in which we are stuck, snarled in traffic, and snarling at each other. Then everything changes.
This production is produced and directed by the Town and Gown’s own Karl Steele who first brought these four heavy lifting stars and this weighty script together at the Old Joint Stock in Birmingham. Though minimal, the staging and the lighting are a fringe theatre nerd’s wet dream. Simple yet essential. Maximising the minimal. Always a help, never a hindrance to the storytelling. If this is what we can expect from inhouse Town and Gown productions then the tickets will be hotter property than the contents of Colonel Thomas Blood’s overnight bag circa 9 May 1671.
Perhaps it was Nick Allen on piano who worked the hardest for the longest to make the magic happen. After what we’ve all been through in the past couple of years it’s easy to forget how much sheer bloody talent is required to do every aspect of great theatre well. Get your coats on and go see this show. If you can, try and sit near Allen. When there’s a lull in the action, watch him tickle the ivories without hesitation, repetition or deviation and thank Dionysus that it’s him working so hard and not you.
Reviewer: Dan Lentell