Opposites attract, or so the well-worn saying claims. To judge from area and Off-Broadway offerings, such opposites also make for intriguing stage fare.
“Rooms: A Rock Romance” brings together an ambitious Jewish singer-songstress and a reclusive non-religious Christian guitarist in a somewhat engaging Boston Center for the Arts premiere by Bad Habit Productions. ”This Is Our Youth” sharply looks at the unlikely bromance of a volatile drug dealer and a gangly collectibles maven as well as the latter’s unusual romantic encounter in a frequently striking Gloucester Stage Revival. Siblings struggle with stage life, reality and each other in out late playwright Tennessee Williams’ fascinatingly strange drama “The Two-Character Play.”
“Rooms: A Rock Romance” moves from collaboration to relationship as 1977 Glasgow Jewish Entertainer of the Year Monica P. Miller hires musician Ian Wallace to compose and perform a song at a 1978 bat mitzvah. While Miller unwisely sings of bi-sexual attraction –angering the bat mitzvah’s mother, who cancels Monica’s upcoming engaging at Let My People Go-Go, the chemistry between the two is real. What makes the chemistry in the Bad Habits Production doubly interesting are the marriage of composer and co-author Paul Scott Goodman (himself from Glasgow) and collaborator Miriam Gordon (the Detroit daughter of Holocaust survivors) on the one hand and the upcoming marriage of cast members Ashley Korolewski and Michael Levesque on the other.
If the Goodman score often sounds like a poor man’s mix of “Spring Awakenings” angst and “Tick, Tick…Boom!” energy and the musical’s book needs more fully articulated romance, Korolewski and Levesque often compensate with their spirited performances- especially the latter with a very vibrant higher register. Korolewski captures Monica’s unbounded ambition, and Levesque convinces as sensitive Ian, particularly as he confronts his addiction to alcohol. Director Daniel Morris makes the punker moments between Monica and Ian really rock; what need more work are the ups and downs of their relationship so that “Rooms” can be as inviting as Bad Habit Productions would like it to be.
Bad Habit Productions, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through September 1. 617-933-8600 or bostontheatrescene.com
“This Is Our Youth,”a vivid play by Kenneth Lonergan, proves as potent in its portrayal of wasted and imperiled youth as the drugs its characters take or sell. Set at a Manhattan apartment in 1982, Lonergan’s alternately gritty and humorous play focuses on three very different young people whose lives are seriously mis-focused. Hot-tempered Dennis Ziegler tells diffident Warren Straub that his parents pay for his residence and are glad that he does not live with them. Designer Jenna McFarland Lord has caught the ambience of liberal Jewish Upper West Side early 1980’s with a large bean bag, a Jimi Hendrix poster, Frank Zappa vinyl, a large picture of marijuana and even a sculpture of two lesbians that belongs to his (unseen) girlfriend. Bodybuilding Dennis- there are weights and an exercise bench as well – deals in drugs and cockily describes himself as “like a Jewish godlike Julius Caesar.”
Not surprisingly, both Dennis and Warren have parents that are poor role models and lack positive motivation. Dennis intimidates Warren, who hero worships him but owes him money. Warren’s memorabilia collection- including a 1950’s GE toaster and a vintage Wrigley Field cap- could help to pay that debt, though he seems reluctant to sell them. Early on Dennis rough houses with Warren in a curiously intimate way, inviting him to “Dance with me” and even briefly kisses him. Lonergan certainly seems to be suggesting that Dennis may be gay or bi-sexual and that his bravado about women may be overblown.
Gloucester Stage Company guest director Lewis Wheeler- a talented actor in his own right (“Long Day’s Journey into Night” at New Repertory Theatre, for example) would do well to modulate otherwise convincing actor Jimi Stanton’s menace at moments like these so that Dennis comes across as more conflicted than bullying with Warren. Such modulation would connect with the seemingly macho but deeply vulnerable Dennis’ second act crying. Tellingly, Warren then speaks of their “not breaking up” and not being Dennis’ girlfriend. In fact, Warren- played by standout Alex Pollock with perfect off-center moves that become a metaphor for his lack of confidence and self-esteem- ends up dating attractive Jessica Goldman, the only woman the audience actually sees. She has her own parental issues, having to check in regularly with her mother. Amanda Collins effectively conveys Jessica’s evolving feelings about Warren.
“This Is Our Youth” has rightly become a modern classic of urban aimlessness. With a subtler tone, director Wheeler could find all of the dark humor and rich irony inherent in its timeless cautionary observations.
This Is Our Youth, Gloucester Stage Company, through August 25. 978-281-4433 or gloucesterstage.com.
Few theaters ever stage Tennessee Williams’ late experimental effort “The Two-Character Play “(sometimes called “Out Cry”). The rarity is not surprising given the play’s daunting mixture of dramatically grim and tricky improve-like stretches. Set in a “state theatre in an unknown state,” the atypical work finds Felice and his sister Claire in profound confusion and despair after the departure of the (unseen) crew and remaining cast members. With Alice Walking’s vivid scenic design complementing the characters’ ruined lives and the back story damage of their parents’ murder-suicide, Felice and Claire could be modern day variations on the siblings in the equally poetic and dark Edgar Allan Poe short story classic “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
What keeps their ultimately unresolved sense of entrapment and the entanglements of play-within-a-play Williams plotting compelling are Amanda Plummer’s fiercely strong though mentally unhinged Claire (based on Williams’ own sister Rose) and Brad Dourif’s protective though deeply vulnerable Felice (reflecting the playwright’s own inner conflicts). Director Gene David Kirk orchestrates the strange music of their desperation so smoothly that the discordant elements in Williams’ singular effort recede into the wings at New World Stages.
The Two-Character Play, New World Stages, Off-Broadway, through September 1. 212-239-6200 or telecharge.com