Recently a friend of mine called and invited me to see Inner Voices. I am so very glad he did. I would never have gone had he not asked.
Billed by the Producing Artistic Director, Paulette Haupt, as a sort of “artistic match.com” this bi-annual event matches playwrights and composers who have not previously worked together. This year Charlayne Woodard was paired up with the composer Kirsten Childs and Mark Campbell with the composer Marisa Michelson.
What both teams are blessed with are the extraordinary performers Andrea Frierson and Phoebe Strole respectively. Each one-person piece is sort of an extended art song. Because of the intimacy of the space the audience experience is up close and very personal. These two actors reveal their characters with nuance as well as broad strokes. This is a fascinating evening.
Because I never read anything about a production before I see it – I prefer deducing on my own as opposed to relying on someone else’s say so – it took a little time for me to get on board with the story of the first piece. Grace (Andrea Frierson) is a writer caught up in the fury of her own life. She has come to a crossroad that she would rather sidestep. She has done everything right in her life – she made herself into a successful author and has taken care treat her body with reverence. When her body betrays her she descends into the past to find the tools to give her courage.
The Other Room was easier to follow. Lena (Phoebe Strole) is the witness and guardian to her best friend Steve’s final wishes. It is 1990, when AIDS was ugly and everywhere. She busies herself with a painting. She struggles with the right green to keep her mind busy. Bit by bit we learn of her friendship with Steve and how each was champion to the other. It is a deep and devastating loss that, like Grace, Lena would rather sidestep.
Frierson and Strole possess extraordinary voices and know exactly what to do with them. I didn’t notice any CD’s out in the lobby, but both of these women should have a few. (Frierson will be at 54 Below on November 5th). Each knows that the voice is connected directly to the heart. They soar and plummet; they are bold and frightened; they are tender and courageous.
Less successful was the direction on these pieces. While the music led us to raw and intimate territory, the blocking was often not believable or just plain unimaginative. Granted, this form of one-person performance is tricky. Someone who is performing a musical monologue dwells in a grey area. Too often they were left to simply stand and sing or fumble unconvincingly with props.
This was not enough to ruin either performance however. Frierson and Strole along with their respective musicians were able to deliver the goods and then some. Grace and Lena, opposites in every way imaginable, are pure determination. Life is something they are in up to their vocal chords. We are allowed to walk with them through the fear and the fire and therefore are able to feel the strength each summons to overcome.
Well done, ladies. Well done indeed.
INNER VOICES: Grace – libretto by Charlayne Woodard and score by Kirsten Childs. Directed by Shirley Jo Finney.
WITH Andrea Frierson; Music Director/Piano – Rona Siddiqui, Maurice Belle – double bass
The Other Room Libretto by Mark Campbell and score by Marisa Michelson. Directed by Ethan Heard. Music Director/piano Ian Axness, Brian Sanders – cello
Production Design – Reid Thompson (sets, costumes, props), Lighting by Oliver Wason, Sound by and Jacob Subotnick, Projections by Nick Hussong and Wigs by Jon Carter
PREMIERES (Paulette Haupt, Artistic Director) presents Inner Voices, the biannual series of solo works featuring new teams of playwrights and composers. The TBG Theatre (312 West 36th Street – between 8th & 9th Avenues) through November 1. http://www.premieresnyc.org