Review: Tragedy of Convention: Cara Mia Theatre’s BLOOD WEDDING

Alexandra Bonifield

Federico Garcia Lorca. Blood Wedding. Cara Mia Theatre Company. Duty v. Desire. Moments of breath-taking beauty implode into explosions of anguished desolation throughout the tragedy, burning deep into the senses of those who attend this morality masque, a ritualized soul cleansing with proto-feminist overtones. Through December 13 at Dallas’ Latino Cultural Center.

An internationally recognized avant-garde Spanish poet, playwright, theatre director and impassioned advocate of the theatre of social action, Federico Garcia Lorca railed against urban capitalist society, and his later works reflect these beliefs. His most famous play Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding), first performed in Madrid in 1933, focuses on destruction wrought by society’s repressive conventions. An evocative, experimental clash of drama with non-metered poetry, even the play’s form seems at war with convention. Drama certainly contains poetry, but how well does descriptive poetry lend itself to drama? Lorca stated, “theatre is poetry that rises from the book and becomes human enough to talk and shout, weep and despair.” Throughout Blood Wedding, sensation and emotion take precedence over action and thought, lending the work a disembodied, static quality. The tragedy’s catalyst to action, and destruction, is the only character Lorca gives a name: Leonardo, the horseman. Their societal station names all other characters: The Bride, The Bridegroom, Leonardo’s Wife, Mother, 1st Woodcutter, etc. It’s a tough play to produce with its anti-realistic nature and intense flights of poetry. Cara Mia Theatre Co.’s adaptation, directed by David Lozano, with original music by S-Ankh Rasa, uses the poetic aspects effectively as context against which Leonardo’s conflict, duty v. desire, plays out vividly to violent conclusion. Experimental and remote on one level, the work leaps to life with a visceral urgency under Lozano’s direction, “rises from the book”, in time with the offstage sound of Leonardo’s horse’s fast galloping hooves as he pursues forbidden love. Cara Mia’s production speeds along, blazingly tortured; whipped fast and hard, it’s like a noble horse run to death, as societal convention wreaks havoc and kills or destroys the hearts and souls of all its characters.

Blood Wedding: From L – The Bridegroom (Ivan Jasso), The Madre (Frida Espinosa-Muller), Leonardo’s Wife (Caroline Dubberly), The Padre (Rodney Garza). Ben Torres photo.

Two different men, each approaching convention from totally disparate viewpoints, each desiring the same woman, provide the play’s conflict and illustrate the playwright’s enormous disdain for the “conventional”. The Bridegroom appears early in Act One, in a scene with his mother, played by Frida Espinosa-Muller speaking mostly in Spanish. Brow-beaten and coddled by her in turn, the Bridegroom wears the mantle of a man of convention with ease, trusts that all will be right with his world if he follows the rules.

Cara Mia company member Ivan Jasso plays the Bridegroom clean-shaven and with ready smile, a simple warmth to his demeanor, trusting that all will go well on his wedding day. When the Bride deceives him at the wedding and runs off with the other man, the Bridegroom becomes consumed with self-righteous anger and sets out on an ill-conceived, tragic mission of revenge. All his pleasing plans, all his playing by the rules, come to nothing. Jasso imbues the Bridegroom with ready conviction and eager sweetness; he reveals his character as a simple man who learns too late that rules are made to get broken. His sin? Trusting. His response? Revenge. His reward? Death. Society’s curse. He is the play’s most innocent victim, caught up in convention’s web of deceit.

The other man? The play’s powerhouse catalyst. Wracked with biting disdain, pacing like a caged lion, lashing out with explosive outrage born of anguish after years of self-torture in the service of prescriptive “duty” in a loveless marriage, Leonardo represents the ultimate proto-feminist sacrifice: the seemingly all-powerful male, straight-jacketed into a repressive life of convention, with his only viable emotion rage. Director Lozano cast Cara Mia Theatre Co. newcomer R. Andrew Aguilar as Leonardo. An actor of imposing stature and presence with commanding voice and focused intensity, his Leonardo epitomizes the dominant man convention seems to worship on one hand.

He chafes against that convention, Duty, as his inner nature drives him to abandon all obligations for his true love, the Bride. Aguilar’s scenes as Leonardo convincingly crackle with seething, unpredictable energy as he drives the play forward into tragic descent, creating a fierce, terrifying portrayal of a man surging towards his own death, dragging everyone else along on a downward spiral.

Women figure prominently as a bloc and as individuals in Lorca’s Blood Wedding, some more predictably than others, all with dark aspects. No one evades convention’s wrath in this nihilistic tragedy. The women live in a world of dependency on men, for status and respectability, as well as for survival. All have premonitions of doom as they traverse the play. The Bridegroom’s mother expresses dark concerns about the girl he is about to marry. Leonardo’s Wife, played with elegance and grim backbone by Caroline Dubberly, sings a haunting, melodic lullaby duet to her sleeping child with the Mother-in-Law (rich-toned Lorena Davey) while they await Leonardo’s arrival. The words of the lullaby prophesy death and destruction, instead of hopeful reassurance to the child. Both fret about Leonardo’s return home from one of his mad gallops, which prove to be justified as he rages, threatens and demeans them. Dubberly matches Aguilar’s untamed forcefulness as Leonardo with calm, erect bearing and regal, deliberate response. Lorca did not write her as a cowed, broken woman, and Dubberly makes that clear. Her Wife seems proud, almost flaunts the duty and convention that she manifests, which she knows Leonardo hates. Her strength repels him bounding back out into the night, as she refuses to treat him as a self-styled demi-god.

Even the Neighbor/Servant woman (Lulu Ward), the play’s effective comic relief, strains to maintain a happy demeanor while helping the Bride dress for her wedding. Stephanie Cleghorn Jasso plays the Bride as a fully emotionally developed character. Her Bride seems to intend to go through with the wedding, as convention dictates, but hates the idea with despairing reluctance. She clearly doesn’t love the Bridegroom, deceives him and his family into thinking she is content to marry him. Locked in by convention, Jasso’s Bride appears resolved to make the best of a bad situation. When Leonardo appears at the wedding, she follows her heart and her nature and runs off with him, destroying her respectability and acceptance by conventional society. The Bride and Leonardo’s fates function as poetic symbols for Lorca, representing what happens to the individual in a society of ironclad convention.  Jasso’s Bride transcends the symbolic by responding to Leonardo’s incredibly passionate, if almost archetypal, embrace with deeply human tenderness: part passion, part grief, part pity and resignation. She conveys simply, with a gentle touch and long, intense kiss, that their fates are sealed by society’s impending response to their actions. Jasso’s vibrant portrayal of emerging modern woman in the Bride, unwilling to give up her choice as an independent woman, even if it means supreme sacrifice, reflects Lorca’s commitment to liberation of the individual.

The adaptation’s second act gains momentum and delves deeper into the symbolic as the action moves to a nearby forest.

Three Woodcutters emerge (Jeffrey Colangelo, Amir Razavi and Rodney Garza) to describe the lovers’ flight, almost a Greek chorus. A ghastly masked Beggar Woman (Frida Espinosa-Muller, in a captivating second role), representing Death, welcomes doom and destruction, urging a mesmerizing silver-clad human manifestation of The Moon (Adam A. Anderson) to shine brighter so the escaped lovers can be more easily caught. The play ends with only the women surviving, gathered in church, respectable ones on benches, the Bride crouched with face hidden in shame on the floor behind them, her dress covered in her dead lover’s blood. They speak defiantly of survival, but will they? No one evades the wrath of convention in Blood Wedding.

Bob Lavalee’s expressive scenic design reinforces the austere, dreamlike quality of the work and keeps transitions simple and quick. Three monolithic flats of sandstone slab float in and out and across each other depending on a scene’s setting requirements. The dank forest evoked by the Beggar Woman appears as a giant cutout curtain of trees erected instantaneously on a fly rail partway upstage. Original music enlivens the show in an unworldly, indigenous style, with S-Ankh Rasa playing live drums and chimes, and Armando Monsivais playing live guitar. Sound designer Trey Pendergrass recorded Rasa playing didgeridoo, singing bowls, and percussion, then treated the recordings and designed the soundscapes that play throughout the final act. With costumes by Niki Hernandez Adams, dance choreography by Karen Bower Robinson and fight choreography by Jeffrey Colangelo, light design by Aaron Johansen. All reinforce the works themes, moods and the play’s action with well-conceived precision. Ensemble includes Shauna Davis and Kristen Kelso.

It’s a daring choice to mount Lorca’s Blood Wedding, given its complexity and convoluted, symbolic nature. This production marks a crowning creative achievement for Cara Mia Theatre Co. in its 20th Anniversary season, one of consistently outstanding artistic performance. The ensemble honors Lorca’s statement that “theatre is poetry that rises from the book and becomes human enough to talk and shout, weep and despair.” A rare beauty of a production, full of lyricism, passion and societal relevance. Human enough.

The adaptation of Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca runs through December 13 at The Latino Cultural Center.

www.caramiatheatre.org 214.516.0706

Mercado Bilingue Talkback, Sunday November 29, with Philip Morales: after 2:30pm matinee

Photos by Adolfo Cantú Villarreal – TZOM Films unless otherwise noted

Review: Be Lovin’ It: Uptown Players’ HEDWIG Rocks the Kalita

Alexandra Bonifield

Amor omnia vincit. Maybe in Hedwig’s case, Wink-it? Love conquers all. Not every day, or every time, or every situation. But in Uptown Players’ production of the revered 1998 rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, running through September 13 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater, love—in an honest, intense, human, revelatory, intimate, glorious, explosive way – does ultimately conquer its characters and sweeps the cheering, stamping, clapping capacity crowd right along with the Cupid-struck. A Holy Roller-style revival meeting couldn’t make truer believers out of dour skeptics. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters!

Spectacle: On opening night I entered that hallowed ritual space, the Kalita Humphreys Theater, as an innocent Hedwig virgin, and left cosmically satisfied, well beyond any aspect of critical carnal expectation. Hedwig brims over with experiential awesomeness for body, heart and soul. Orgasmic? That’s not to say that its physical realities in production sight and sound disappoint in any way. From twinkling ropes of Christmas lights strung in wild profusion over the audience to a multi-level, 70’s-evoking glam rock opera industrial girder set (Bart McGeehon) strewn across the stage with rock musicians perched strategically about to best create a balanced, blasting rock opera immersion ((Virgil Justice), to Hedwig’s array of dazzlingly raunchy David Bowie-esque costumes (including batwing chaps) and extravagant, magnetized wigs (Derek Whitener, Victor Brockwell, Coy Covington), what a feast for the imaginative sensualist in everyone. Upstage, multimedia projections reinforce the rip-roaring spectacle, incorporating shots of the destruction of the Berlin Wall with a phantasmagoria of pulsating colors and shapes to match the emotions of each moment (Bart McGeehon, Amanda West). Then there’s the music, directed by Scott Eckert, also playing keyboard and guitar, with Rick Norman on bass, Jason Bennett on guitar and Justin Labosco on drums. Eleven satisfying rock anthems emanate in a no-restraints range of rock decibels and styles, each pleasing unto itself but all building to the final transcendent, joyful reveal at show’s end.

Acting/singing/direction: Kyle Igneczi gives an unforgettable, non-stop, powerhouse, evocative performance as Hedwig. Perfect casting. Grace Neeley debuts at Uptown, treading a tightrope of challenges with masterful precision in portraying Hedwig’s less glamorous, seemingly passive-aggressive husband. Perfect casting. When the two sing together, their harmony is sublime. Alone, each rocks out in exemplary fashion. Major kudos to director Jeremy Dumont: for pairing this duo and making the most of their complimentary skills and talents. My respect for his creative touch expands by leaps and bounds.

Truth? This is a simple love story set within a rock musical, about two characters the audience grows to appreciate as honest beacons of love’s manifestation: the gender-bending Hedwig and husband Yitzhak. As I watched the truths of both characters manifest, I tingled all over, enraptured by what transpires. If you know the show, you understand. Go live it again. If you don’t, discover it here. The truth will set you free. Love can conquer most anything. At the Kalita Humphreys Theater, love and awesome rock triumph over all in Uptown Players’ Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I be going back if I can….

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Book by John Cameron Mitchell, with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask

http://www.uptownplayers.org (214) 219-2718

Location: Kalita Humphreys Theater

3636 Turtle Creek Blvd (at Blackburn), Dallas, TX 75219

PERFORMANCES SELLING OUT FAST. BUY TICKETS NOW.

Tickets: $30-$45

Review: OTHELLO: Rage-rockin’ the Bard with Second Thought

Alexandra Bonifield

Chaos is come again.….

Chaos “comes again” with the heat of a raging forest fire and tension of a python squeezing prey with steel-taut coils in Second Thought Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Othello. It runs through August 8 in Bryant Hall on the Kalita Humphreys campus. The play begins with pre-tsunami calm as actors in character stroll through the house mixing with patrons, sit alone praying or slouch brooding against back walls framing a tiered, industrial bare in-the-round set. Without warning, the audience finds itself hurtled into the heart of the show’s maelstrom of intrigue and betrayal. Mayhem and murder creep in on virile lions’ paws, ripping into every character with savage cunning. Director Joel Ferrell seizes upon one of Shakespeare’s cruelest, most destructive, most tragic plays and whips it into a rock music-punctuated crescendo of sorrow, deception and death. A brilliant flash of strategic, vengeful catharsis concludes the performance. No character remains un-bloodied; surely, no audience member departs unshaken.

Meet the Moor, Othello: Venerable Tyrees Allen presents first as a noble, dignified, confident, authoritative hero and leader (so huge banners unfurled on opposite sides of the playing space attest). He’s a general long accustomed to leading without challenge, Sober and commanding, he appears unassailable. He trusts his officers without question. Pity, that. His cascading disintegration before your eyes is the stuff to make nightmares of. Simply put, Allen owns the role.

OTHELLO (Tyrees Allen, Alex Organ)

OTHELLO (Tyrees Allen, Alex Organ)

Meet villain Iago, Othello’s ensign: Tall, lean marathon runner fit, Alex Organ emerges as a true monster across the first half of the play, but only in the audience’s eyes. When Othello summons him, this Iago brims over with self-effacing accommodation and obsequious camaraderie. All a mask of deadly deception. He ensnares the audience into collusive conceit with clenched-teeth half snarls, passionately articulating seething rage and psychopathic desire for revenge against the unsuspecting Othello. All the while, cool, calm and decorous in outward demeanor. As master manipulator, Organ’s Iago ascends in predatory slow burn until his nefarious goals explode with horror. An exquisite but grotesque portrayal. Take your eyes off him, I dare you. Don’t turn your back.

Cassio, Othello’s Lieutenant: Shakespeare seems to have it in for people of noble intention in this play. If ever there were an undeserving victim, it’s Cassio, newly appointed Othello’s as right hand man, and Platonic friend to Desdemona, Othello’s bride. In contrast to Organ’s bleak dissembling intrigue and spiteful aura, Blake McNamara embodies a wholesome space of pure light. Also tall but fair-headed and uncomplicated in gesture or word, he operates from good intentions, with no guile or “agenda”. Like Othello, he is too “good” to see Iago’s machinations. Victim of a smaller tragedy within the play, McNamara’s Cassio suffers with acceptance and open sorrow when his drunken brawl, set up on by Iago, gets him demoted from Othello’s command. A quiet actor, McNamara elicits genuine sympathy for his principled character.

Desdemona, Othello’s wife: Another undeserving victim of Iago’s hateful machination, Desdemona suffers tragically when accused of infidelity with Cassio. I have always felt this character to be on the stupid side. Joel Ferrell directs Second Thought newcomer Morgan Garrett in a surprisingly reflective, vibrant, transcendent interpretation. No weak victim, this Desdemona. As a woman of intense religious faith, she never wavers in her devotion to God or husband, no matter how the latter treats her. She is a stronger character, ultimately than her “commanding” husband. Shakespeare has her sing “ Willow, Willow Song” as her doom approaches. “Sing all a green willow must be my garland. Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve….” For some reason, Director Ferrell switches it to the 1779 English folk hymn “Amazing Grace”. Although recognizable and powerful in its religious sentiment, it does not reinforce Desdemona’s circumstance and acceptance of the horror she faces with the same potent sadness. (My only quibble with the production)

Emilia, Iago’s wife: A secondary character in terms of line count, Emilia often gets directed as a shrill marital annoyance badgering Iago. A foil. She calls briefly for justice in a second act speech (sometimes cut as “superfluous”) right before his annoyance turns to murder. Director Ferrell guides seasoned Second Thought actor Jenny Ledel into a full-voiced, commanding performance. An equal on any stage to the charismatic Alex Organ, Ledel exudes a forceful presence that elevates the battles waged between Emilia and Iago. Almost a proto-feminist character in this production, Emilia stands firm for justice, honor and protecting the rights of the innocent like no other character in the play. She is the production’s true hero, while not its protagonist. Ledel’s crisp, intelligent facility with Shakespearean language is a joy to hear, as occasionally the rock-based score drowns out other actors not quite as professionally skilled.

Written somewhere between 1601 and 1604, over 410 years ago, Othello stands in bold testimony to the universal genius of William Shakespeare. Second Thought Theatre’s contemporary production rocks the Bard, way hard. A tragedy, a thriller, a love story gone awry, a violent tale of pure evil played at fever pitch – forget cable TV and come sit shivering in Second Thought Theatre’s seats like I did, and love every tortured, horrifying minute of this live staged production.

Review: Fit to FIT: CrossOver Arts Theatre’s “Dangerous Things on Dark Nights”

Alexandra Bonifield

Some shows just fit FIT. Crossover Theatre Arts’ Dangerous Things on Dark Nights “fits” the bill at the auspicious intersection of mission, mantra and manifestation. Providing a setting for new, unproven playwrights to produce new, unproven, short works exists as one of the way cool assets of FIT (Festival of Independent Theatres), continuing at the Bath House Cultural Center through August 1. The selection committee takes risks in choosing the year’s slate of plays. An expectation of polished, “finished” work doesn’t enter into the picture. Everybody starts somewhere.

“Dangerous Things On Dark Nights” (l to r) Isabella Montague, Maya Pearson, Alexandria Lofton.

“Dangerous Things On Dark Nights” (l to r) Isabella Montague, Maya Pearson, Alexandria Lofton.

CrossOver Arts Theatre involves youth and the community in all their creative endeavors as part of their mission. In producing as their first-time entry into FIT a short play about relationship mishaps penned by a young, aspiring playwright and college sophomore psychology major, CrossOver uses the opportunity to fulfill its mission at FIT to best advantage. Whether Naomi Cohen refines and reworks her play or never writes another one, she will remember and value this experience that honors her honest endeavor. It takes guts and initiative to write a play, particularly one with painful emotions.

Cohen’s play follows three high school best friends as they explore questionable behavior, clash with one another and ultimately move on with separate lives. Cohen primarily uses serial monologue to convey the inner thoughts and feelings of her characters. A format that clashes with a story arc based on interaction, sometimes it works, sometimes not. It tends to make the play static, doesn’t drive action more than a staged reading with music stands would. Yet her characters are clearly realized, believable, interesting individuals, even as they exist in a world of reflection rather than conflict and resolution. What’s the takeaway for the playwright? Hopefully, she will feel inspired to expand and develop the piece into dynamic scenes. Show, not tell. What does each character want? Do they get it? Do they change their minds? Do they surprise themselves and the audience with wisdom that reflects upon the human condition? And what does they audience take away from viewing? Something really fresh, a type of art’s birth.

Acting by Alexandria Lofton, Isabella Montague and Maya Pearson is unaffected and genuine. It’s not polished or “pro”. It “fits” the work’s scope at this time. All high school students at Booker T. Washington School for Performing Arts, these girls will surely remember the summer they got to star in a brand new play at FIT by a former schoolmate as a high point of the summer. Now that constitutes real community engagement. Kudos to Director Dennis Raveneau, Artistic Director of CrossOver Arts Theatre. He gives these aspiring young artists a unique opportunity and directs them kindly with attention to detail and respect. Peer into a corner of their world and cheer them on. It would be only fitting.

CrossOver Arts Theatre’s Dangerous Things on Dark Nights performs again at FIT 5pm July 18, 8pm July 23 and 8pm August 1.

http://www.crossoverarts.org/about.html

 Info, tickets: http://www.festivalofindependenttheatres.com

Review: A Question of Manliness: DGDG at FIT 2015

Alexandra Bonifield

 I never thought of being a man

Until you told me so…

What was I when I wasn’t what I should be?

Haunting lyrics bookend Danielle Georgiou Dance Group’s (DGDG) holistic offering at the 2015 Festival of Independent Theatres, running July 10 through August 1st at the Bath House Cultural Center. The Show About Men pinpoints the primary question of the piece in the audience’s heads right from the start, the same question Hamlet asks: “What is a man?”

Danielle Georgiou, Justin Locklear and the outstanding ensemble in The Show About Men run with this question over the next 45 minutes, utilizing dialogue, monologue, dance, and original music in a non-traditional exploration of the definitions of manhood. The personal experiences and beliefs of the performers play in juxtaposition against the backdrop of society’s expectations. That exploration, alone, provides an entertaining, provocative night of theatre. Director Danielle Georgiou and her mostly male ensemble accomplish far more. DGDG’s performers’ journey transcends cultural issues of manhood; it asks and responds to the underlying question, “What makes a man?”

The performances from the ensemble are engaging and personalized across the board. Specific moments strike deep chords. In one, a college drop-out learns how to come to terms with his past. In another, a gay man who equates manhood with acting tough joins the military, winning 2012’s “soldier of the year” during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, while he never feels his inner reality matches the outer manifestations of the men around him. Less than halfway through the performance an irreverent, priceless original musical piece centers on what many should have learned in high school Anatomy and Biology class (I laughed so hard I think I drew focus. . . well done, performers Justin Locklear and Trey Pendergrass.).

It is difficult to praise specific performances as the program doesn’t identify one actor/dancer from another, merely lists their names: William Acker, Colby Calhoun, Matt Clark, Curtis Green, Gabriel King, Justin Locklear and Trey Pendergrass.

Not credited in the program, Kayla Anderson serves as a crucial pivot for several critical scenes in the show. She is a rock star. In one effective moment she stands in as a Barbie Doll (not a “boy toy”), demonstrating impressive, surprisingly specific pantomime skills sitting upon a suggested toilet, located beside a row of suggested urinals. She “relieves” herself in the most impressive musical feat of the evening, an instant doo-wop-style classic, “Gender Neutral Bathroom in the Sky.” In addition to inspiring many laughs throughout the show, the work excels in its poignancy.

One criticism: a public service announcement-style segment that immediately follows “Gender Neutral Bathroom in the Sky” seems out of place. This scene interrupts the magnetism and flow of the show. Performers sit in chairs and stare directly at the audience, demanding full attention (which they already have) as they impart important factual information. Although relevant and sobering details emerge (male rape and suicide statistics), the scene’s delivery feels contrived and seems to belong to a different show all together. Could Director Georgiou and her wickedly talented crew find a different means of expressing the information, integrating it more with the tone and style of the work?

Ultimately, The Show About Men examines less about who we are as men, and more about what we are as people. It explores identity, fear, weakness, coming of age, and learning to take first steps toward self-actualization, all universal subjects. The performance makes an exquisite piece of theatre (or dance-theatre as the program asserts) — beautiful, engaging, skillful and moving. Any man walking out of the theatre after the performance might wonder, “Maybe I shouldn’t think so much about what it is to be a man, maybe I should think more about what it is to be me.”

By special contributor R. Andrew Aguilar

Unpretentious Charmer: “Ordinary Days” by Our Productions Theatre Co.

Alexandra Bonifield 

What live theatre event would I attend that would make an especially memorable evening, in a good way? I’d buy tickets to Ordinary Days, Our Productions Theatre Company’s first musical in their inaugural 2015 season, also the N. Texas regional premiere of the work by celebrated “up and coming” composer/lyricist Adam Gwon. I saw it a week ago in previews at the MCL Grand Theatre in Lewisville. It’s now running through April 19th at the Studio Theatre at Addison Theatre Centre. So, you can grab healthy, affordable grub nearby before the play, see the show for $30-$35/ticket, and still have some cash to go out for dessert, drinks and discussion after….See www.ourdallasproductions.org for show/ticket details.

This is as classy, charming and whimsical a sung through production as any you’ll find in the N. Texas region today. Structured in a contemporary style (no intermission, lots of exposition, simple lyrics, complex harmonies without any hum-worthy memorable tunes, four characters, no realistic sets), it appears to meander along while developing solid character and plot arcs that flex and glide and intersect unexpectedly until they merge in hope-filled harmony at the show’s conclusion. Dramatist Magazine named the show’s creator Gwon one of the “50 to watch”. It’s evident why he won the 2008 Fred Ebb Award for excellence in musical theatre songwriting. He has “flair” and a “unique voice”, as did Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Weber when they first emerged on the musical theatre scene. Gwon fits the 2015 vibe, writes for a younger audience with a clearly defined contemporary sensibility. Ordinary Days is a genuinely fun show with thought-provoking moments and a loving spirit. It offers no major descent into humanity’s darker side, no human meat pies baked in the basement and no masked boatman kidnapping a soprano while a pipe organ’s tones drone ominously over the audience.

Director Stephanie Riggs cast her four characters with strong rising regional talents and capitalized on their strengths and quirks to create believable people, in spite of the artificial sung-through convention of the work. At the preview I attended, one voice struggled occasionally to stay on pitch; but I think that arose more out of unfamiliarity with the space and difficulty in hearing the piano than out of lack of skill or talent. The music is demanding and the characters vibrant. The cast includes Sarah Elizabeth Smith, Matthew Silar, David Price and Juliette Talley, all performers with noteworthy professional credentials and promising futures stretching out before them, as singers and actors. Our Productions’ Mark Mullino directs the show’s music.

Visually, the character’s modern dress street clothes (Susan Doke, costumes) and Scott Kirkham’s set design blend well and set appropriate mood and tone while keeping music and characters in full focus. Four left and right stage flanking panels painted with simple line drawings to evoke images of the New York City skyline provide clean context, and an upstage drop curtain serves well as a scene-setting projection background. Kirkham washes his set in pastel tones at times, reflecting the kaleidoscopic variety in Gwon’s music. The bare wall effect transitions smoothly into a credible Metropolitan Museum gallery in soft neutral tones.

To repeat, Ordinary Days is as classy, charming and whimsical a modern sung through production as any you could find mounted in this region today. In truth, I have a particular fondness for fully orchestrated, painstakingly restored versions of classic musicals with overtures, intermissions and memorable tunes. I am baffled by the cultural and communication trends demonstrated by many heralded contemporary works and leave the theatre feeling as though I was served an appetizer when I expected a meal. Ordinary Daysleans in that direction; but the caliber of writing and this production’s solid execution earn sincere thumbs up from me. I’d enjoy it a second time, if I returned to see it in Addison.

Visit www.ourproductionstheatreco.org or call 972-724-2147 for show/ticket information. Runs through April 19, 2015

Photo credit: Scott Kirkham, Our Productions Theatre Co.