Ordinary Days lacks excitement
Music and lyrics by Adam Gwon. Directed by Julie McIsaac. A Relephant Theatre Co-op production at the Carousel Studio on Friday (January 4). Continues until January 19
Despite three (out of four) excellent performances in this production, Ordinary Days makes for an ordinary evening.
The subject and theme are interesting enough. Adam Gwon, the show’s young New York composer, is a hot property in the Big Apple these days—largely and somewhat inexplicably because of this piece. But in Ordinary Days he looks at the lives of four less successful young New Yorkers, folks who are tipping into the uncomfortable adult realization that perhaps their accomplishments are not going to be as noteworthy as they had assumed. Gwon’s take on this is tender: “Life itself is extraordinary,” he seems to be saying. “You don’t have to strive; you just have to notice.”
I’m all for that; I just wish that Gwon had found more interesting ways to say it, both musically and narratively. There isn’t one memorable melody in Ordinary Days; most of the score sounds like recitative. Only three or four times in the 80-minute evening does a number even acquire a distinctive shape. About halfway through, this happens twice in a row. Warren, the wacky artist, and Deb, the neurotic PhD student, share a duet in which Warren tries to convince Deb that their meeting is magical—she lost her notes for her thesis on Virginia Woolf and he happened to find them. And then romantic partners Claire and Jason, who have just started living together, face off in a testy exchange. Listening, I hoped that we had reached a musical turning point, but nope, we were soon back to conversational burbling.
Gwon’s exploration of Claire and Jason’s relationship is circular: they just keep telling us that their communication sucks. Fortunately, Warren and Deb make a more engaging pair. Warren is gay, so we get to look at a friendship rather than a romance for a change, and Deb is nicely twisted. She sings: “Woody Allen heard Gershwin in the air when he thought Manhattan/Well I’m not so impressed, I hear, like, Philip Glass at best.”
Gwon’s lyrics are much stronger than his tunes. When Jason and Claire are arguing about what bottle to bring to a dinner party where fish is being served, Jason finally explodes: “I’ll bring the red, you bring the white/That way I’ll still get drunk, you’ll still be right.”
Shane Snow, who’s singing the part of Jason, had an awful time on opening night. Often off-key, he struggled especially hard in his part’s upper reaches. All of the other performers are terrific. Jennie Neumann is note-perfect as Deb and her comic timing is seamless. Steven Greenfield is ebulliently charming as Warren. And Alison MacDonald not only lends her beautiful soprano to the role of Claire, she also manages to make her storyline’s dramatically forced climax emotionally affecting.
Set designer Jessie van Rijn leaves room for the actors to move through the audience, which is seated in groups throughout the Carousel Studio, and director Julie McIsaac does a solid job of making this intimate staging dynamic.
But what’s a musical without enjoyable music?