By Donna Herman
I’m not big on organized religion, nor am I a woo-woo, signs and portents person. I’m more of an “I swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell” type. But time and again, events prove to me that everything happens for a reason. I knew very little about Hundred Days at The Under the Radar Festival when I went to see it. I knew it was a concert-musical by The Bengsons, a folk-rock duo, about how they met and fell in love. I had watched a couple of clips of Abigail and Shaun and liked their music and dynamic, and so agreed to review the piece.Ab
When I got to The Public Theater the night of the first snowstorm of the season, and found out it was General Admission seating, I was not in a good mood. I admit, I was downright pissed off. I’m not proud of it, but I was feeling ill-used by The Public Theater. Harrumph! I shot off a quick e-mail to my editor, before the curtain went up. General Admin seats, relegated to the side, will not be able to see the performers faces! Double Harrumph!!
Then the house lights went down, came up on stage, and Abigail and Shaun Bengson and the rest of the band/cast entered. And the first thing that happened was that Abigail turned to both sides of the audience, and said “oh, you’re there in the back. Don’t worry, I got you.” She looked straight at my side of the audience, smiled, and began to talk. And Shaun turned his head to see her and was also facing in my direction. Hmmm. Maybe this seat wasn’t going to be a complete disaster.
There’s no doubt about it, Abigail is charming and Shaun is adorable. They bound on stage like a couple of puppies. It’s impossible not to smile when they immediately confess that they’re married. They’re a family band called The Bengsons, but they’re married. This is vital information we have to have. Someone saw their show once and thought they were brother and sister. If we think that, things are going to get real dark, real fast. Greek in fact, we’re informed. So then they launch into their first song – which was their wedding vows.
I defy anyone, even a grumpy critic, not to be moved by Vows and their curious and exhilarating blend of otherworldly folk and rousing rock music. Especially if Abigail is looking directly at you (ahem), with her eyes flashing and her black curls flying as her body pulses from the pounding she’s doing on the drum at her side as she’s singing her heart out.
They then confess that they got married three weeks after they met. Not the Hundred Days of the title – that comes later – but a shockingly short twenty-one. With the help of internationally known playwright Sarah Gancher, TV and theater choreographer Sonya Tayeh, award-winning director Anne Kauffman, and band/cast mates Colette Alexander, Jo Lampert, Geneva Harrison, and Reggie D. White, The Bengsons have conceived, and written a not quite play, not quite musical, not quite concert, but highly theatrical….piece, with music and movement, about how they met, and how their relationship came to be.
And this is where the signs and prophecies come in. By this time, after the first song, I’ve decided that I’m going to describe exactly where my seat is in my review and recommend that everyone try to sit there. But then Abigail started talking about these recurring dreams since childhood of her future husband. Always the same, very specific. I’m not going to tell you what they were. I don’t do spoilers. But I will tell you that, they were pretty darn accurate, and I can’t really blame Abigail for reacting the way she did. Maybe not what I would have done, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in love like the two of them.
So I re-thought my position on this seat thing, and decided I’m not going to tell you where I sat. Everything happens for a reason and everyone’s path is different. I sat in the perfect seat for me. Which I wouldn’t have chosen for myself if I had had my pick. So there. Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and accept where you are.
But I am going to tell you to go see Hundred Days if you can. Not just because the music is great and the performers are charming and talented. But because these people have done a bunch of living and thinking in some pretty short lives. And they’re willing to share what they’ve been through in a very honest and exhilarating way. Besides, you might just meet your soul-mate. Or get the best seat in the house.
Hundred Days Book, Music & Lyrics by Abigail & Shaun Bengson, Additional Material by Sarah Gancher, Directed by Anne Kauffman, Movement Direction by Sonya Tayeh
WITH: Colette Alexander (Cello), Jo Lampert (Accordion & Vocals), Geneva Harrison (Drums), and Reggie D. White (Vocals)
Set, projection & prop design by Kris Stone; lighting design by Andrew Hungerford; costume design by Sydney Gallas; sound design by Matt Hubbs. Originally developed and produced by Z space, Lisa Steindler, Artistic Director; and Piece by Piece Productions/Wendy Vanden Heuvel. And further developed with Encore Theatre Company/James Faerron and KnowTtheatre of Cincinnati. Performances at The Public Theater, Under the Radar Festival, 425 Lafayette Street, Jan 11, 12, 13 & 15 at 8pm, January 14 & 15 at 3pm. Tickets can be purchased at the Taub Box office, 425 Lafayette Street, by phone at 212-967-7555 or online at www.undertheradarfestival.com