Thursday, October 18, 2018

103 (2018-2019): Review: ORDINARY DAYS (seen October 18, 2018)

"Four Bites of the Big Apple"

Ordinary Days, Adam Gwon’s bookless, sung-through, chamber musical, is one of those intimate little shows that has gained something of a cult following with its depiction of young strivers seeking love and fulfillment within the bustle of New York City. Following its 2008 premiere in London’s Off West End, it was given an admired Off-Broadway production by Roundabout in 2009 and has had multiple international stagings since then. Its first New York revival, kicking off the Keen Company’s 19th season, is enjoyably well done but nothing notably out of the ordinary. 

Whitney Bashor, Kyle Sherman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Performed on a utilitarian set of black platforming and translucent cube-like enclosures (one of them hiding its piano, reed, and bass orchestra, led by John Bell), it’s about two couples. One is Deb (Sarah Lynn Marion) and Warren (Kyle Sherman), the other is Jason (Marc delaCruz) and Claire (Whitney Bashor). A flip phone reminds us that it’s 2007. 

Warren’s a gay, sweet-natured, somewhat nerdy, aspiring artist who does odd jobs (like cat-sitting and handing out flyers) for a trust fund-wealthy artist. Deb’s a sassy-mouthed grad student who’s at her wit’s end because she’s lost her loosely bound book of research notes for a thesis on Virginia Woolf. Warren finds the notes, notices Deb’s email address, and arranges to meet her at the Metropolitan Museum to return them.

Their bumpy friendship begins when the distressed Deb has a rude (and rather unconvincing) way of showing her appreciation, calling Warren a “fucking weirdo.” Of course, as they discuss art and aspirations, they eventually resolve their mutual issues as they discover “the big picture” of their mutual ambitions.
Kyle Sherman, Sarah Lynn Marion. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Jason and Claire are seriously in love. He lives 14 blocks away and wants to be closer, so they agree on his moving in with her. This, though, causes their relationship to stumble. Because of tensions Claire’s feeling but that we can’t at first fathom, his proposal that they marry causes their break up. Only later, when Claire sings about it, do we learn the sad reason boy has lost girl. Of course, there’s still time before the final curtain for boy to win girl again.
Sarah Lynn Marion, Kyle Sherman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Each couple’s story is enacted separately from the other in alternating scenes. While the couples never actually meet, they now and then pass each other as people occupying the same urban space. The thinness of Gwon’s plotting is not substantially enhanced by these unsurprising characters, nor are the experiences they encounter notably illuminating. It’s all pleasant enough but there’s a been-there, heard-and-seen-that feeling that simply fails to ignite.
Whitney Bashor, Marc delaCruz. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The burden of maintaining our interest lies in the sequence of Gwon’s narratively-oriented songs, whose clever lyrics define who’s singing them and provide the expository background. A couple of numbers stand out from the 14 heard in this revival, one of those that most delighted me being “Calm,” a rapid patter song Deb performs while standing in a crowded subway car as she fights to find calm amidst all the pressures she’s feeling.

The excellence of Sarah Lynn Marion’s lightly comic rendition is matched by Whitney Bashor’s moving expression of Claire’s “I’ll Be Here,” the 11 o'clock number in which we learn what’s behind Claire’s commitment issues. Admittedly, despite the reason being a contrivance that expects the knee jerk response it receives, it’s still hard not to feel a lump in your throat when you hear it.

Too many of the other numbers, though, are in the generic, faux-Sondheim mode of narrating rhyming exposition to a steady beat. Their witty lyrics are often a delight but the melodies tend to bleed into one another.
Sarah Lynn Marion, Kyle Sherman. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Jonathan Silverstein’s direction elicits all the right emotional notes from his appealing cast, whom he moves about with spirited élan. The performers have charm, fine voices, and the acting skills to bring their songs to life. Visually, though, Steven C. Kemp’s neutral set is too bland, and Anshuman Batia’s lighting, despite his use of marquee light strips, could do more to kick up the effect. Jennifer Paar provides amusingly kooky clothes for Deb and Warren; Claire and Jason, not so much.
Marc delaCruz, Kyle Sherman, Sarah Lynn Marion, Whitney Bashor. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
What most catches your eye comes when, near the end of this 80-minute show, Deb and Warren toss dozens of colored pages (his art and her notes) into the air, creating a vivid paper rainstorm. At that moment, the too frequently ordinary Ordinary Days becomes extraordinary.
Kyle Sherman, Sarah Lynn Marion. Photo: Carol Rosegg.


Clurman Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through November 17