About five minutes into this operetta, A Second Chance, at The Public’s Shiva Theater, I realized that I knew exactly where we were headed. It was not welcomed news.
This is the story of a present day romance between tow adults who have some tread on their tires. Dan (Brian Sutherland) is a widower. Jenna (Diane Sutherland) is a divorced woman looking to find love again. They meet at a cocktail party where he is charmed by her pluck, and she is flattered that he is interested in conversing with her. He is still mourning his wife who died a few months earlier. She is open hearted.
After a chance meeting on the subway she asks him out to a museum. Soon they are on each other’s speed dial. They take it slow. They finally become lovers. Dan falls back and reverts to thinking it is too soon to be happy. He is damaged goods. Jenna stands by him and sings soothing music to reassure him. Then she falls off the apple cart when Dan sort of wants her but also wants his grief. Jenna tells her therapist that she finally realizes that it is her fear as well as his that is messing things up. It is not until seven or so months pass that they duke it out in the park. She tells him that he doesn’t have the corner on the damaged goods market. She is damaged goods as well. The argument surprises him and seems to shake something loose between them. The wall comes tumbling down. He takes off his wedding ring and puts it away with a snapshot of his wife. They pack up their picnic and head off into the sunset. Cue the romantic music.
What is extremely refreshing here is that the characters in question are over 40. They are not exceptional people. They are ordinary folks. Nothing fancy about the way they dress (indeed Jenna has pretty bad taste in clothes), or eat or anything. What they are is normal. Like you. Like me.
What I believe we need in a theatrical production, however, is to discover the “un-normal” parts. We need to dig in and see what makes these two folks tick. What connects them to one another? In other words it is the old “Why is today different from any other day?” eternal question.
That is precisely the question never answered here. These two go along at one pace – a slot trot. Everything is summed up in the opening scene and there is not one surprise to be had for the next 90 or so minutes. No surprise in the music, which is repetitious to the point of being mind numbing. No surprise in their relationship. Boy meets girl. Both are attracted. Both are afraid. They overcome their fears.
Truly there are only a few plots in the world. Plato told us that. So this is the one where boy meets girl and it works out. I get that. In order to keep us interested, however, a writer must go deep. Relish the characters’ unique flavors. Invite us in to the basement of their lives. Let us see what they don’t want us to see. We want to be intrigued, and interested, and curious, and concerned.
Unfortunately Mr. Shen, although well intentioned, does not keep our interest. He gives us the outer shell of each character and nothing more. They are cobbled together, much like the video projections of their respective homes – one is a brownstone in Brooklyn and one an apartment in Greenwich Village. Surprise.
Shen tells us that Dan and Jenna have a lot at stake, that this is a make it or bust time in their lives. But he never shows us in a way that is compelling. I cared no more for these two at the end of the evening than I did after the first five minutes.
You can’t help but reflect on all the folks involved in a collaboration like this. All the people who come together and work so hard – excellent musicians by the way – to make this a success. But in the end you are left wondering why no one sat Mr. Shen down and told him that his finished product did not live up to his good intention. It misses that mark by a mile and more.
A SECOND CHANCE, with book, music, and lyrics by Ted Shen. Directed by Jonathan Butterell.
WITH: Brian Sutherland (Dan) and Diane Sutherland (Jenna).
Scenic Design by Robert Brill, Costumes by Susan Hilferty, Lights by Jen Schriever, Sound by Jonathan Deans, Orchestrations by Bruch Coughlin, Music Coordinator Joseph Thalken, Music Director Zak Sandler Video Still Photography Stacy Renee Morrison and Eric Weeks. Musicians: Bill Ellison, Dave Ratajczak, Chris Reza, Zak Sandler, Daniel Sullivan.
A SECOND CHANCE begins previews on Tuesday, March 18 and runs through Sunday, April 13, in The Public’s Shiva Theater.