Monday, May 19, 2008

Three

"Inner Voices: Solo Musicals" presented by Premieres at The Zipper Factory Theater, May 14, 2008

(Photo credit: Andy Criss)

The synopsis from Theatremania.com:

Inner Voices: Solo Musicals features the world premiere of three commissioned works, presented by Premieres.

Tres Ninas, by Ellen Fitzhugh and Michael John LaChiusa, will be directed by Jonathan Butterell, with music direction by Todd Almond. Tony Award Winner Victoria Clark stars. The musical tells the story of a white American woman's affecting and being affected by 'The Other" at three stages of her life.

Alice Unwrapped, by Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering, is directed by Jeremy Dobrish with music direction by Julie McBride. Jennifer Damiano stars. In it, a fifteen year-old girl has big shoes to fill with her dad missing in action, Mom refusing to come out of her bedroom, and a younger sister demanding normalcy - or else.

A Thousand Words Come to Mind, by Michele Lowe and Scott Davenport Richards, is directed by Jack Cummings III, with music direction by Jon DiPinto. Tony Nominee Barbara Walsh stars. When a mother's legendary silence is broken as she lies dying in a hospital room, her daughter embarks on a journey into the power of the unspoken word.

Ms. Clark continues to redefine the term "singing actress," a term first exemplified by the inimitable Barbara Cook. In "Tres Ninas," she's a ten year-old living in federal housing in a small town just south of San Diego in 1952. She and her friends have witnessed a Mexican family smuggled over the border and staying in a cave before pressing on to a new life in the U.S. Dressed in a blue nylon slip and pantyhose, her hair wadded up on top of her head, her young self reminded me just a bit of Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann as she told of sneaking food to the illegal immigrants. Fifteen years later, she's a divorced mother of two girls trying to make ends meet while working for Pacific Telephone. In another ten years, she's a bartender with a drinking problem, describing a drunken sexual encounter with an eighteen year-old migrant worker. The arc of her character depicts the life of woman who loses her way, not realizing how bad it's gotten until it really can't be corrected. Ms. Clark's performance is fearless, never shying away from the confessional and sometimes tawdry nature of her tale. She is in immaculate voice as ever, clear and pure in tone and emotion. It's a masterful appearance.

In "Alice Unwrapped," Ms. Damiano has the toughest job of the evening - - following Ms. Clark. Her Alice, helmeted and clad in foam packing sheets held on with duct tape. The exposition of her father missing in the Middle East and her mother's withdrawal drags on a bit. It's not until Alice has to pick up Ella, her eight year-old sister, from school that it gets interesting. Ms. Damiano manages the teenage existential rant part well enough, but she warms up as she relates the argument and negotiation that goes on in the back of a taxi with Ella during the ride home - literally and emotionally unwrapping herself for her sister's sake. Some of the piece was lost due to the piano volume overbalancing her voice.

Ms. Walsh's dutiful daughter in "A Thousand Words Come to Mind" takes us through the middle stages of role-reversal (a particularly dear and painful phase of life, for those of you who haven't had a taste of it yet) as her mother lies in the hospital, diagnosed with cancer. In a morphine-induced stupor, mother thinks she was the inspiration for a character in "The Human Stain" by Philip Roth after meeting him in a bar one afternoon. After flirting with the clerk at Borders, she buys the book to bring to her mother. Still unmarried, she sees potential in most of the men she meets during her mother's illness, the non-responsive doctor, the bookstore clerk, etc. Totally unconvinced about the Philip Roth story, mother goes on to identify herself in books by John Irving, John Updike and Norman Mailer, so all of those books come to the hospital too. She calls Mr. Roth's agent in an attempt to verify the tale, but is put off by his assistant, "We get calls like this ALL the time." A few days after she dies, she gets a note from Mr. Roth, telling her of a most uncomfortable encounter in a bar with her mother. Ms. Walsh relates the daughter's approaching middle age with a subtle reality, sometimes jaded and yet always hopeful. It's a nicely balanced performance.

All three acts have been directed with simplicity and economy in the bare-bones Zipper Factory. Accompaniment ranged from a single piano to piano and guitar, and piano and bass.

The show runs through May 30. They haven't spent much on marketing, which is quite a shame. These performances shouldn't be missed.