The lives of four young New Yorkers intersect in “ordinary days”; Kelsey Theater resumes live productions with Adam Gwon musical
“ORDINARY DAYS”: Performances are underway for “Ordinary Days”. Directed by Laurie Gougher, the musical runs through July 17 at the Kelsey Theater. Claire (Jazmynn Perez, left) has suffered a loss that complicates her relationship with her boyfriend, Jason (Shane Tapley, right). Warren (Jackson Jules, second from left) forms an unlikely friendship with Deb (Karaline Rosen, second from right). The cast is accompanied by Michael Gilch (seated at the piano). (Photo by Evan Paine)
By Donald H. Sanborn III
In the musical Ordinary days one character sings, “All my favorite places are places I’ve never been. “For many theatergoers, a theater Hosting a live, in-person production is a place they’ve never been – at least since March 2020.
The Kelsey Theater has resumed its in-person performances. The Kelsey Forward Initiative production of Ordinary days Originally to be presented outdoors on the campus of Mercer County Community College (MCCC). However, the extreme heat and humidity, along with updates to CDC and state guidelines, resulted in the production being relocated to the auditorium.
The production “uses social distancing seats and masks are in demand during the show,” according to Kelsey’s website. Copies of the program are online rather than in print, and tickets for a live broadcast are available for viewers who prefer to watch the show online. But the in-person performance this writer attended (Saturday July 10) was sold out.
Ordinary days is a sung musical that portrays four New Yorkers whose lives briefly intersect in unexpected and poetic ways. The unpretentious, character-driven show is poignant and heartily humorous. It examines the tension between great ambitions and an ability to cherish everyday life; and the need for a character to face a painful past, in order to welcome a happier future.
Adam Gwon wrote the conversational and intricate music and lyrics. The show opened in 2009, as the first Roundabout Underground production at that company’s Black Box Theater.
For the Kelsey production, Laurie Gougher takes over both staging and musical direction. The cast has great chemistry and clearly appreciates the material. Online performances have been a critical stopgap, but Gougher’s direction reminds us of what a live stage has to offer.
Against the starry sky by lighting designer Judi Parrish, we see a crisp, stylized recreation of the Manhattan skyline, by set designer Haley Schmalbach and set designer TC Coppolecchia. The whole is both exterior and interior; the “skyscraper” in the center is a cabinet in which bottles of wine are stored.
Warren enters, carrying a stack of colored papers. Some that he attaches to buildings, others that he offers in vain to passers-by. The pages contain aphorisms, which an artist was arrested for painting “all over town”. Warren reveals that the artist hired him “to watch his cat while he is in jail.”
Jackson Jules expresses the sincere and thoughtful nature of Warren. He puts his whole body into his performance (exuberantly roaming the stage), just as Warren puts his whole being into everything he does, trying to make the most of his life.
Deb, an exhausted and rather restless graduate student, hails from a town that is “a suburb of a suburb” and has always found her current location and the circumstances limiting her wandering and vague ambitions (“I always knew that I had places to visit. ”) Karaline Rosen entertainingly portrays the character’s nervous energy.
Jason (Shane Tapley) is about to move in with his girlfriend Claire (Jazmynn Perez), so that there is less “space” between them. This forces them to get rid of certain possessions – an uncomfortable task for Claire, who finds it difficult to ‘let go’. To Jason’s amazement, Claire is particularly fierce in her determination to keep on one particular sweater.
Deb, who has been busy writing her thesis (on Virginia Woolf), is upset to find that her thesis notes are missing from her bag. In a divided scene, Warren discovers the missing notes among the objects he has found and collected (he is fascinated by the “life story” that each object tells). He contacts Deb and offers to meet her at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to return the pages to her.
Jason and Claire also decide to visit the Met in an attempt to liven up their relationship, which continues to be strained by Claire’s fixation on her past. However, the trip does little to strengthen the relationship, as they discover that they prefer to explore different rooms.
Deb is overwhelmed by the traffic and the museum layout, but she eventually finds Warren and gets her notes back. She finds Warren strange – especially because of the elaborate scenario he envisioned for their date – but suddenly offers to buy her a cup of coffee. (They visit a Starbucks, where they are served by a barista played by attendant Michael Gilch, who silently hands them their drinks from across the piano).
The exchange highlights one of Gwon’s skills as a songwriter: creating the lyrics – and the music, which dictates when the lyrics are spoken – in a way that creates sudden but organic surprise. at the end. The device is repeated in “Fine,” a dry duet in which Claire and Jason argue over what type of wine to take to a party. At the end of the issue, Jason abruptly proposes to Claire, who – to her subsequent horror – accepts.
Tapley, a robust tenor, often delivers the loudest vocal performances, especially in “Favorite Places” and “Hundred Story City”. In these two songs, the passionate and urban Jason expresses his frustration at the emotional distance Claire continues to hold him. (This last issue contains a line in which he deplores “the lack of stars”, which is notably contradicted by the lighting.)
Perez is effective in portraying Claire’s painful restlessness. One of her strongest performances comes from “I’ll Be Here”, in which Claire reveals in a neutral tone the devastating reason why the sweater is so important to her – and why she couldn’t wear it. ‘fully engage in the relationship with Jason. .
Gwon’s music is alternately passionate, restless and at times introspective. Gilch is a skillful and sensitive accompanist who amply supports the singers throughout their performances. As musical director, Gougher draws a well-balanced sound from the quartet; the mix of vocals is exquisite in “Hundred Story City” and “Falling”.
Gougher’s staging reminds us of an element that live theater can convey more successfully than a Zoom production: physical space. The philosophical distance between Warren and Deb, and the emotional distance between Claire and Jason, is demonstrated by keeping the characters at a physical distance in some scenes.
Claire and Jason are often placed on either side of the stage; when they come closer to each other, it is the result of a significant evolution in character. Gougher also makes strategic use of vertical levels, leaving the characters to stand on a bench at emotional times.
Ordinary days was originally developed in 2007, six years after September 11. The events of this day are a major plot point, and a dominant theme is the need to cherish what is important, against the ever-present possibility of loss. “Hundred Story City” contains the phrase “You must hold on to what matters to you. In the same song, Jason describes the pause of “life”, which resonates sharply in 2021. In “Beautiful”, Warren enjoys “The color of the feeling that life is OK”.
As Gougher observes in a program note, “Beautiful” also contains the lines: “Beautiful takes a person who makes a connection… the beautiful must be seen. It’s exhilarating to see this refreshing spectacle in a theater.
Ordinary days will perform at the Kelsey Theater at Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Road in West Windsor, until July 17. For tickets, show times and more information, call (609) 570-3333. Production is in double casting due to COVID precautions. Performances on July 16 and 17 will feature Stephanie Garcia (Claire), Nathan Olmeda (Jason), François Suhr (Warren) and Zoe Necowitz (Deb).