For its first production of a musical, the company at InnerMission Productions has, on paper, chosen well. It’s Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days, a contemporary story, set in New York, with a young four-person cast and scored for a piano accompaniment. Designed to be done without amplification, it seems an excellent fit for the Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box space where the company performs.
Except that InnerMission is a company known for intense acting. And, the acting here is pretty intense, maybe a bit more than is needed.
But more than that…
More than the acting, which is actually good, even if intense, Ordinary Days is written as a 90-minute, no intermission, sung-through musical. Note: “sung-through.” Almost no dialogue. And, at best these are actors who sing, rather than singers who act.
Mr. Gwon’s story focuses on two couples. One, the 30-somethings Claire (Kym Pappas) and Jason (Brent Roberts), is romantically involved (the show opens with Jason about to move into Claire’s apartment). The other, 20-somethings Deb (Jamie Channell Guzman) and Warren (Patrick Mayuyu), are not romantically involved. Deb is a grad student working on a thesis about Virginia Woolf. Warren is house-and-cat-sitting for an artist who is in jail. They meet when Warren finds the thesis notes that Deb dropped and sets up a rendezvous at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to return them.
Jason is a romantic who has been looking for love. He thinks he’s found it in Claire but she somehow seems resistant to commit. Moving his things into Claire’s place turns out to be more difficult than he imagined. There’s stuff that doesn’t seem important but which Claire is hesitant to throw out. Claire, as one might imagine, has a secret that’s holding her back, and Jason’s double-down moves to keep her hooked in, romantically, are having the opposite effect.
Deb seems somewhat self-important, but her bravado hides the fact that she’s in grad school because she can’t figure out what else to do with her life. Warren feels stuck in his current occupation. He’d like to be an artist, but his attempts to make art with “found” material from his employer aren’t working. Both need to find a way of getting un-stuck.
It’s all very contemporary, very urban, and I can see why Ms. Pappas and her co-producer, Carla Nell, were attracted to it.
And, the production itself, under Matthew E. Graber’s direction, is fine, if bare-bones. The actors embody their characters well, and the story they tell is believable, if ultimately slight.
Mr. Gwon’s music, though, is not slight. It owes a debt to Stephen Sondheim, which means that it’s complex, often pounding, with a range that would challenge professional singers. Many of the songs have lyrics that go by very quickly and can be hard to understand.
Musical director Hazel Friedman provides solid accompaniment. She knows that she’s working with singers who don’t have a lot of training (Mr. Roberts seems to have the most, but he’s working above his natural range a fair amount of the time). She coaxes them through tough passages, but they don’t quite make it. She’s tried to teach them to belt the parts that are high, but the success on this score is inconsistent. There’s shrillness where there should be soaring, and the good acting can’t compensate for the mediocre singing.
I hate it when an earnest company like InnerMission doesn’t quite get there. I’m hoping that November’s offering, Falling, Deanna Jent’s play about parents dealing with an autistic child, will prove to be a better fit.