note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Beverly Creasey
Thank heaven for companies like BLUE SPRUCE THEATRE. Where would we see vibrant chamber musicals like their current PORTRAITS, if they weren’t carving out a niche for them? PORTRAITS (through Nov. 23rd at Arsenal Center for the Arts) is comprised of two small but infinitely poignant musicals. The first, THE LAST LEAF, is based on the charming O. Henry story and the second, STILL LIFE, reverberates around three generations of strong, artistic women.
Peter Ekstrom’s clever adaptation of the O. Henry work about Grenwich Village painters at the turn of the century captures the BoHo flavor of Puccini’s La Boheme---both have stricken heroines---but Ekstrom’s songs are simple, sweet testaments to friendship and longing, punctuated by humorous ditties like the delightful “Let’s Drink a Toast.” The latter is delivered with gusto by Dorothy Ahle in a pants role as the tipsy but kindly next door neighbor. Ahle made me think of Walter Slezak, as (s)he bemoans that (s)he is “A Failure in Art.” Lisa Korak and Rachel Baum sing gorgeous harmony as the two artists who live across the hall and Peyton Pugmire adds gravitas as the despairing doctor who can do little, once pneumonia has been diagnosed.
Jesse Strachman gets lovely performances from the entire cast, twice, because the women sing quite different, contemporary roles in the David Javerbaum/ Jenny Giering STILL LIFE. We meet a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter as two of the three are leaving home.
Javerbaum and Giering paint an extraordinary portrait of heartbreak as grandma begins her descent into what my own mother called her “awful forgetery.” The exquisitely spare “Pass the Eggs” circles round to take your breath away when the phrase takes on a terrible resonance. Ahle traverses the blurring of memory with an elegant performance. Korak beautifully renders the many meanings of “Still Life” in the title song and Baum brings girlish lightness to the granddaughter role. Music director Nathan Loftin’s orchestra is perfection and Jose Delgado’s musical arrangement of STILL LIFE’s score soars with emphasis on harp and cello. You won’t find a better ensemble anywhere. See PORTRAITS for the music. See if for the stories…but see it.