Monday, August 1, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W32: Between the Lines, Reverse Transcription, Seagull, Memories of Overdevelopment

What: Second Stage presents the premiere of a new musical adaptation of Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer's YA novel about a teen girl obsessed with a fairy tale who suddenly finds the hero of the story speaking to her from the pages of the book.
And?  I mean, who hasn't had a crush on a fictional character? I wanted to like this a bit more than I did, because honestly when it's good it's a damn delight and I had a huge grin on my face. The songwriters Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson are at their strongest when writing funny songs, like the teens' song, "Inner Thoughts," the mermaids' belter, "Do It For You," or the librarian's tribute, "Mr. Darcy and Me," all delightfully staged by director Jeff Calhoun and choreographer Paul McGill, under Jason Lyons's excellent lighting design and on Tobin Ost's whimsical and romantic scenic design. Caite Hevner's projection design is inconsistently effective, but it seems to be a part of theatrical design that's here to stay, so the most we can hope it that it won't hinder storytelling when utilized. Arielle Jacobs brings a sweetness to protagonist Delilah, but she is put to some comedic shame by the chops of some of her costars (Wren Rivera, who's got both a belt and comedic timing built to make us all jealous of their talents; Julia Murney, off-Broadway royalty and for good reason; the reliably wacky Vicki Lewis stealing the show every chance she can get; and Hillary Fisher's pitch perfect performances as both school bully Allie and dizzy Princess Seraphima). Is this production ready for a commercial transfer? Not yet. The production team is talented, as are the performers, but too often the show veers into such a degree of conventional story/cliche song type that I stopped listening during many of the earnest songs, and just grew impatient with many of the home scenes. I've seen this already, and I've seen it better. But with more sharpening of the text, more drive for unique specific takes, and keeping all the comedy (which really does work), this could be something.

Arielle Jacobs and Jake David Smith as Delilah and Prince Oliver.
Photo by Matthew Murphy.

What: PTP/NYC presents two one acts about gay men in "pandemics past and present," Dog Plays by Robert Chelsey, which takes place in San Francisco in 1989, and A Variant Strain by Jonathan Adler and Jim Petosa, which takes place in New York City in 2020 and 2021.
And? I knew going in that the intention was for the two plays to be in conversation, but what I hadn't realized was that A Variant Strain was written expressly as a follow up to the AIDS era Dog Plays. (I also knew going in that my friend James Patrick Nelson was in the cast but I hadn't realized he was the lead in both, so that was a lovely surprise.) Variant Strain, like Dog Plays, is about an hour, and split into three parts: a confrontation of memory and coupling; a remembrance for the dead only somewhat known; and an aching imagined conversation with a ghost. The risk with both plays is how heavily they rely on their actors' having strong monologue work. Unfortunately, that's a mixed bag here, with the exception of (I know I sound biased but it's true) James Patrick Nelson, who imbues every moment with honesty and intention, not getting lost in either poetry or vague emotion. Luckily, he's able to carry a lot of both shows, but I will confess my mind wandered a few times when some of the others were speaking. However, Jonathan Tindle as Fido in Dog Plays, a simultaneously cynical and hopeful observer, brings a beautifully specific energy to his scene. Robert Chelsey's writing in Dog Days has some stunningly poetic lines that I wanted to capture in amber and sit with for an hour after. Jonathan Adler and Jim Petosa's writing for Variant Strain never quite reaches those heights, but Petusa, who also serves as director for both productions, sculpts both plays with a sure and delicate hand, so that each touch, each gesture, each character interaction is telling a story, is breaking open a heart. (one last point: I don't know if these plays are written explicitly about only white gay men in two pandemics, or if they were just cast that way, but it needs to be pointed out)

James Patrick Nelson and Trey Atkins as Dog and Lad in Dog Plays.
Photo by Stan Barouh Photography.

7/29/22: Seagull
What: Elevator Repair Service doing its thing with Chekhov's play about disappointed idealist and artistic ambitions.
And? Here's the thing: when you're not in the right mood for a book, you can put it down. When you're not in the right headspace for a song or a movie, you can hit pause and try again later. When you're not in the right mood for a play? Both you and the play are up a creek. ERS absolutely captivated me the first time I saw one of their pieces (The Select, an adaptation of The Sun Also Rises), but I was just not in the mood for what they were bringing to the table with Seagull this time. Everything seemed to take too long, the departures weren't quite enough, and it probably doesn't help that I've been a bit Chekhoved out for a while now. I didn't end up staying the full night, and judging by the staff at the door asking the 20 or so of us leaving if we were coming back, that may be something this production is struggling with in general.

Susie Sokol and Maggie Hoffman as Masha and
Nina. Photo by Jenn Morse.

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