Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: Oh Virgil! A Theatrical Portrait

Troy Valjean Rucker performs. Below, Victor Truro as
Virgil Thomson. Photos by Antonio Minino

The Portrait is Interesting, but Not Complete

By Lauren Yarger
Oh Virgil! A Theatrical Portrait, Wallace Norman’s new play about the life and music of Virgil Thomson playing Off-Broadway at Judson Memorial Church, gives us a glimpse into the life of the award winning composer and music critic, but doesn’t give us a full picture.

Norman uses five vignettes to paint a portrait of Thomson (Victor Truro) and links them with musical works performed on a piano offstage by musical director Michael Conley and sung by soprano Watson Heinz and baritone Troy Valjean Rucker. Rucker also plays Ogden Reid, editor of the NY Herald Tribune for which Thomson was chief music critic from 1937-1951 and Heinz doubles as Gertrude Stein, with whom Thomson collaborated on two of his most famous works, the operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All. Rounding out the cast are Victoria Devany and Dan Via who play other roles.

Most of the action takes place in Thomson’s room at the Chelsea hotel (Craig Napoliello, scene design), where he works primarily from his bed, fighting with Stein, yelling at his secretary, writing scathingly critical letters, giving interviews and making a male visitor uncomfortable with veiled advances. Director Nicola Sheara offers a nice picture of the judgment his homosexual tendencies received as the rest of the cast gathers around Thomson for a “decency trial” in which they collectively “shush” him.

“I don’t want to be queer,” the conflicted Thomson, who tells us he has tried to keep these tendencies under control cries. “I don’t want this in my life.”

Though the format of combining biographical information with Thomson’s works is intriguing, the snippets aren’t really enough to give us a full picture of who this man was. There is a vague reference to someone named Maurice, but we're not sure who he is, what importance he had in Thomson's life, or whether he might have been the visitor we just saw in the bedroom, for example.
Norman, in program notes, explains that the abundance of information made it almost impossible to offer a biographical portrait in the
time constraints of a theater piece. Instead, he decided to write a “theatrical portrait,” similar to
the “musical portraits” Thomson personalized
compositions completed after he had spent some time studying a person. It works theatrically, but leaves us wanting more substance.

If you want to see the show, hurry. The limited run closes this Sunday. The show is a collaboration of Woodstock Fringe and Judson Arts. The church is located at 55 Washington Square South, at the corner of 4th and Thompson streets. Tickets are available at

Christians might also like to know:

• Language
• Judson Arts is a ministry of Judson Memorial Church, one of the first “off-off” Broadway venues in NY back in the 1960s. The church is affiliated with the American Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ and describes itself as “a gathering place for people who seek spiritual nurture to build public capacity for social change” and supports immigrant rights, arts, peace action, women’s reproductive rights and Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender events.

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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 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. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

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

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

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

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 Episcopal Actors' Guild.

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.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


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.

Reviewing Policy

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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