By Donna Herman

Depending on how you look at it, it’s either very fitting or highly inappropriate that New York City Center Encores! chose to honor the late Michael Friedman with Gone Missing.  Fitting because Mr. Friedman composed the music and lyrics for the show and was the Encores! Artistic Director in 2017.  Perhaps inappropriate, because the piece stresses over and over again that it’s not talking about people going missing.

Gone Missing was written by investigative theater group, The Civilians, founder Steven Cosson from real-life interviews by the Company.  With the exception of one character that was invented and written by Peter Morris, all the other characters are real and Cosson has left their speech intact as responses to questions.  There are 6 performers, 3 men and 3 women, who play many different characters and genders that talk, and sing, about the things in their life they have lost or that are missing.

Although some of them find it hard to think of things and not people they have lost.  Like the woman who said, “Could I talk about losing a husband, I would certainly have a lot to say on that subject.”  Or the man who said “Well, I lost my job. I lost all my money. I had nothing left. But you don’t want that. Right. Only things. Like I lost a something … I’ll think about it.”

Gone Missing is a perfect choice for the Encores! staged reading treatment.  There’s no plot, it’s a series of admissions, if you will, told directly to the audience with no attempt to be anywhere specific.  So, no specific set or scenery is necessary.  And because each person plays many characters in quick succession, it would be impossible to try to do separate costumes for each persona.  In the original, all 6 cast members wore gray suits.  Here, the cast was wearing what looked like casual clothing from their own wardrobes.

Director Ken Rus Schmoll did an excellent job of moving the performers around the stage, and not just having them sit with scripts and get up and move downstage when it was their “turn” to speak.  I’ve seen that happen too often.  Karla Puno Garcia’s choreography was terrific – clever and engaging. More movement oriented than dance heavy, it was pitch perfect, appropriate, and really enhanced the songs.  At several points the choreography got laughs of its own.

The cast did a wonderful job of creating diverse, specific characters with no more than their voices and bodies.  I am always awed at the amount of work that goes into the Encores! productions for two or three performances.  Yes, theoretically the actors have their books on stage.  But if you really look at them, you’ll notice that half the time, most of them are not reading from their scripts, or don’t even have them in their hands when they’re dancing and singing.  It’s quite remarkable and John Behlmann, Susan Blackwell, Aysan Celik, Deborah S. Craig, Taylor Mac and David Ryan Smith all deserve a round of applause.

Gone Missing  Written by Steven Cosson from Interviews by The Civilians, Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman, Interview with Dr. Palinurus by Peter Morris, Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, Choreography by Karla Puno Garcia

WITH:  John Behlmann (Man1), Susan Blackwell (Woman 3), Aysan Celik (Woman 2), Deborah S. Craig (Woman 1), Taylor Mac (Man 3) and David Ryan Smith (Man 2).

ORCHESTRA: Music Director & Conductor, Chris Fenwick; Associate Music Director, Greg Jarrett; Assistant Music Director, Josh Clayton; Chris Fenwick (Piano); Matt Hinckley (Guitar); Jeffrey Roberts (Drums); Alexandra Eckhardt (Bass).

Scenic Designer, Donyale Werle; Costume Designer, Clint Ramos; Lighting Designer, Mark Barton; Sound Designer, Leon Rothenberg; Music Coordinator, Seymour Red Press; Production Stage Manager, Charles M. Turner III; Encores! Off-Center Line Producer, Lily Alia; Casting by Carrie Gardner/Stephen Kopel.  Presented by New York City Center Encores! July 11th & 12th, 2018.