Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Review: Inner Voices: Solo Musicals


(Jennifer Damiano Photo by Andy Criss)
One person expressing her innermost thoughts in song is the premise behind "Inner Voices: Solo Musicals" which I saw at the funky off-Broadway Zipper Factory Theater in New York. It's comprised of three commissioned pieces from composers Michael John Lachiusa (“The Wild Party,” Marie Christine”), Jenny Giering ("Songs for An Unmade Bed") and Scott Davenport Richards ("Ma Rainey's Black Bottom") in a concept developed by Artistic Director Paulette Haupt who was inspired by Alan Bennett's "Talking Heads" on PBS.
The first, "Tres Ninas" by Lachiusa featured a strong performance from Victoria Clark (most recently on Broadway in "Light in the Piazza" and "Urinetown") as she reflects on three separate incidents that shaped her life.
In the first, she and her two sisters assist a family of illegal immigrants they witness jumping off a train. "When people fall in front of you, don't we have an obligation?" she asks. They bring food anonymously, in what really is a dramatic game to the sisters, then the family vanishes in the night.
In the second vignette, Clark smuggles a young girl from Mexico into the United States to serve as a housekeeper for her and her two girls. Eventually Madelina leaves to marry and have a family of her own and Clark sings through a wide range of emotions.
The third snapshot in "Tres Ninas" has Clark as a hardened bartender who is passionate about burritos because there's not much else exciting in her life. After a night of drinking and flirting with some immigrants, she agrees to take the virginity from 18-year-old, Arturo. Drunk and afraid, she realizes that what she "saw as a lark was not for him." His friends watch and after, when she is leaving, she finds her car tires slashed. Arturo protects her and brings her home where she wonders, in librettist Ellen Fitzhugh's wonderful lyrics, "what has led to the life I've led?" and concludes that "I'm not to be trusted with myself."
This first portion of the program was by far the strongest, most polished and appealing of the three. I felt that it had potential to stand by itself in expanded form. Lachuisa's score, as always, was pleasing and challenging. Some confusion clouded the story as it wasn't clear right away whether we were seeing three tales from the same woman or one tale from each of the ninas. (Direction by Jonathan Butterell, Music Direction by Todd Almond)
The second work, Giering's "Alice Unwrapped" had a moving story about a young teen who finds herself trying to hold her family together after her father is declared missing in action and her mother, a church organist, has a breakdown. "She's checked out of our daily lives and left the rest to me," the talented Jennifer Damiano ("Spring Awakening") (pictured above)sings. She constructs an outlandish suit constructed of KELVAR™, duct tape and other materials to help her "fight my elemental fears." She eventually discovers that it is her younger sister Ellie, not she, who is the glue keeping the family together, and with her help, she begins to take the suit off one step at a time.
The storyline of this piece no doubt hit home with many, and the lyrics by Laura Harrington were thought-provoking, but I felt that the music never allowed Damiano to fully express the emotions of her character or the full range of her vocal capability. The melody seemed repetitive and only for a few moments seemed to take us deep enough to feel what Alice was feeling. (Directed by Jeremy Dobrish; Music Direction by Julia McBride)
The third component of the evening, "A Thousand Words Come to Mind" by Richards with a libretto by Michele Lowe gave us a sad, but humorous look at a mother's death through the eyes of her daughter. Barbara Walsh ("Company", "Hairspray")played the daughter who experiences a growing fascination with her mother's encounters with a long list of famous American authors. She struggles with the concept that her mother might have been important, that she might have mattered to important poeple. "Will that make her more important to me?" she wonders. What she reveals, though some top-notch acting by Walsh, is that it's she who feels unimportant and invisible. Lowe's lyrics were polished and made what would be a weak score on its own rather inconsequential to the telling of this story. (Directed by Jack Cummings, III; Musical Direction by John DiPinto)
Overall, the presentation was a worthwhile night at the theater.
Christians might be interested to know:
Contains sexually suggestive dialog
Contains offensive language
The Lord's name is taken in vain twice

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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