Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Midsummer [a play with songs]: The Distance Between Us

"We--can do anything tonight."

Midsummer is not just a reference to the time of year this play takes place but seems to me also the place some people find themselves in midway through life.  When you are not quite young and not quite old but dreams of youth have fallen off and the next steps in life are less than clear. Without overstretching, this rom-com love note to the city of Edinburgh is a quiet charmer.  Written and directed by David Greig, this co-winner of the Best of Edinburgh award* and Traverse Theatre production, brings to life the story of Helena (Cora Bissett) and Bob (Matthew Pidgeon).  A divorce lawyer and a petty criminal, respectively, who hook up in a bar and begin an unexpected adventure together.   Their lives essentially bump into each others.  As characters in flux, whose lives have fallen a bit--or a lot--off track, they stumble through these misadventures in search of needs, wants, fun, and escape.  The audience is lucky to get to tag along.  And this might be the only case of "Elmo interruptus" you will ever see on stage. 

Interspersed throughout the play are engaging songs (music by Gordon McIntyre) sung by the cast. Described as a "lo-fi" production, the cast doubles as the orchestra playing mostly acoustic guitar.  If they weren't busy enough playing the leads and being the band, Bissett and Pidgeon play all the supporting characters as well (in particular I thought Bissett's portrayal of a teenage boy was spot on with the hunched skulking she employed).  Both Bissett and Pidgeon are winsome and as in any good rom-com you root for them.  These characters show us that life might be messy but sometimes you have to take that mess and run with it.  In lesser hands these characters and their misadventures might have felt a bit sappy or trite, but Greig's writing stays edgy and Bissett and Pidgeon stay true to their characters and quite convincingly fall into each other. 

Building off the "lo-fi" concept, the props and costumes are all on stage already in a space that goes from bar to bedroom to city streets which is mostly gleaned from performance and text.  A cute reveal for a philosophical parking meter makes for a smart production choice.

The play manages to be sweet, funny, and life-affirming as we watch these sad, adrift characters reach for something new, good, and fun.  When you get to that point in your life that you ask "Is this it," this play comes back with a bright, sharp retort.

Celebrating the Traverse Theatre's 50th Anniversary, Midsummer plays a limited run in New York at The Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row through January 26th. 

*Midsummer was actually a 2009 winner of the award but the production could not travel to NY that year.  This year Mies Julie won the award but was already slated to play St. Ann's Warehouse this season so Midsummer was invited back.  

I received a complimentary ticket to this production.

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