Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Weird Romance"

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide

| MARQUEE | CURTAIN | USHER | INTERMISSION |



"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


Reviews of Current Productions


entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark



"Weird Romance"


Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by David Spencer
Directed by Scott Gagnon
Vocal Director Ranjini Srikantiah
Orchestra Director Joel Rosenberg

"The Girl Who Was Plugged in"
Book by Alan Brennert and David Spencer
based on the story by James Tiptree Jr.

"Her Pilgrim Soul"
Book by Alan Brennert based on his original story

Set Design by Shawn Bunn
Lighting Design by Jamez Kirtley
Sound Design by Mark Kendall
Costume Design by Alison Novak
Stage Manager Joel Villasenor

Dr. Drayton/Zanth..................Chris Merkel
Carol Drayton/Shannarah.........Shan Shan Huang
Ghost/Voice Coach................Carol Loughlin
Assistant/Son.......................Shawn Kelly
Robot..............................Stacy Pruitt
Animator/Susan...................Sarah McDougal
Cyber-Wizard/Lester............Jean-Emile Elien
Mogul/Chuck...........................Jake Yara
Editor/Beggar....................Pappudu Sriram
Ruskin/Paramedic...................Ronnie Misra
Hologram/Paramedic.............Aditya Prabhakar

Piano.............................Julius Quiaot
Keyboard/Synthesizer..............Kai-yuh Hsiao
Bass................................Roy Emanuel
Percussion.......................Joel Rosenberg
Audition Pianist.....................Louis Toth


Friends used to reserve the designation "s-f" for the good, hard stuff --- calling those "great bad movies" that trivialized science as well as art "sci-fi". So you'd expect "two one-act musicals of speculative fiction" presented in the Kresge Little Theatre by the M.I.T. Musical Guild to be sci-fi to the max. Sci-fi, however, is very much in the eye of the beholder. When this unpretentious amateur cast, under Scott Gagnon's direction, takes its material rather than themselves seriously, the result is very good theater. An M.I.T. audience seeing themselves mirrored onstage only adds to the mix.

The second one-act, "Her Pilgrim Soul" by book-writer Alan Brennert based on his own original story, starts out with a workaholic computer engineer (Chris Merkel) making holograms instead of babies until he finds a literal ghost in his machine. Cara Loughlin, playing a woman years dead in child-birth with something yet unfinished, spends the entire show in a black moire- patterned gazeebo remembering her life step by step, until the doctor learns there is more to existence than laptops and pixels.

Shan Shan Huang, as his smart, neglected art-director wife and Pappudu Sriram as her editor get to uncork one viciously witty duet defining "A Man" in unflatteringly realistic terms, while Shawn Gaddis as the doctor's assistant sings another tracing his dedication to pure research back to a ten-year-old attempt to make himself blue as the aliens in a sci-fi flic. In all cases, the music of Alan Menken and lyrics of David Spencer, witty or lyrically poigniant by turns, are expressively adequate --- if occasionally out of the range of the singers.

First on the bill is a much more traditional sci-fi tale "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" with book by Brennert and lyricaist Spencer based on a story by s-f author James Tiptree Jr. This original must have been a total fantasy, for it begins with the assertion that in the future advertising will be illegal.

To thwart this handicap Jake Yara, playing the cynically all-powerful marketing head of the nation's 8th largest products firm pays celebrities huge sums to turn their lives into wall-to- wall infomercials, demonstrating and mentioning name-brand kitsch wherever they go. But why pay tempermental (and greedy) stars when his cybernetic wizard (Jean-Emile Elien) can turn gorgeous meat into a perfect blonde robot to be inhabited and animated by the mind and soul of someone aching to improve her lot?

The likely candidate for animator is Sarah McDougal, playing a gimpy bag-lady hoping not so much for a handout but more for acceptance, and a smile. Of course she leaps at the chance to go from this caterpillar existence to the glamorous butterfly everyone notices, and so she and Stacy Pruitt, playing the robot, are the same character. The transformation sequence, with voice and life switching from one to another and back, calls for intricate timing, and the reborn bag-lady seeing her new face for the first time is a magic moment.

But there must be conflict, so Shawn Kelly as the mogul's son falls in love with the new star, and she must find out if it's the bag-lady soul or the svelte meat she's wearing that really captures his heart. And since this is a fantasy, he makes the right choice.

Actors with bits and walk-ons in one play take big roles in the other, and most walk off and then come right back on to swel a scene as someone totally other. Director Gannon makes good use of an intimate, informal atmosphere in this regard.

One thing making the second play work so well is Set designer Shawn Bunn's computer-lab, with consoles and dials and chittering keypads. One that makes the first play work is Jamez Kirtley's light plot, with events or characters picked out by tightly focused specials.

Despite rough spots, the cast and the audience have such good, serious fun with these two one-acts that you'd think it was an original made for M.I.T. by M.I.T. --- however the program insists "Weird Romance" came out of New York City's WPA Theatre and is available for anyone to produce via French's Acting Editions. Luckily, the M.I.T. Musical Theatre Guild decided that these playletysand this audience were made for one toher. And they were right.

Love,
===Anon.

Weird Romance --- Two One-Act Speculative-Fiction Musicals (till 19 April)
"The Girl Who Was Plugged In"
"Her Pilgrim Soul"
MIT MUSICAL THEATER GUILD
Kresge Little Theater
1(617)253-6294

THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide
| MARQUEE | CURTAIN | USHER | INTERMISSION |