By Sarah Downs
You gotta love New York. A panoply of theater options lies at our very doorstep, among them many small companies developing new material, planting the seeds of our theatrical future. The three solo musicals showcased in the series Inner Voices are our reward. They have what it takes to blossom.
In Window Treatment, Farah Alvin portrays a New York archetype all of us can relate to. Alone in a crowd, Alvin perches at the window of her small studio apartment, weaving stories of an imaginary life with neighbors she sees through the window. In The Costume, Finn Douglas is Leo, a solitary 10-year old boy nurturing a wounded bird in the quiet of his bedroom. And in Scaffolding, Rebecca Luker is a single mother facing the empty nest she’ll have once the whirlwind of getting her brilliant son into college has passed. Each unique story is linked thematically to the other in its exploration of loneliness and isolation, in compelling performances that range from delicate to dangerous.
As the isolated New Yorker in her little studio home, Farah Alvin is by turns quick, funny and vulnerable; a living découpage of moods and vocal colors. Composer Daniel Green paints with a refreshing variety of time signatures and musical styles. The excellent music and Alvin’s singing have a classic 60’s/70’s musical theater sound, down to the use of xylophone in the orchestration.
Finn Douglas as the boy Leo has a charm and unaffected sweetness about him. His quiet, thoughtful portrayal of a young boy perplexed by the mystery of his home life casts a spell that hovers throughout his performance. He is something of a wonder. Daniel Zaitchik‘s music tells Leo’s story in a child’s voice. It roams melodically in an unpretentious, winding, age appropriate style. This is a boy singing, not some grandstanding, precocious stage kid.
In her role as the single mother facing the departure of her only child, Rebecca Luker whirls onto the set, fresh-faced and energetic. Her character’s story takes a while to warm up,as it involves a bit more exegesis than the other two. However once you are in, you are in! Luker is so present, so vulnerable and then she pins you back in your chair.
All of the action takes place on a single stage, with instrumentalists upstage and the action played out on a one room set downstage. Set Designer Reid Thompson has created three distinct sets, evoking the appropriate atmosphere with a keen eye for just the right furniture or prop, and the best way to make windows of walls. We are invited to look in on the characters’ lives without stepping on any toes. My personal favorite is his design for The Costume. You know right away where and when you are. Lighting Designer Aaron Spivey adds a key element of lushness with painterly, dramatic, almost interactive lighting choices. I do love an unabashed use of color. Spivey also makes good use of practical lamps onstage, adding another texture to the warmth.
In narrative, orchestration and design, each musical is deeply thoughtful and simply wrought. The performances lack the cloying self-consciousness that diminishes the quality of many a show. Indeed, a lack of self-consciousness characterizes the whole evening. None of the theatrical elements, the music, orchestrations or the performances, gets in the way of the story. Each character breaks your heart a little, as they inspire our compassion and empathy. Go see Inner Voices, but please note: the theater is absolutely freezing, so you’ll want to bring a sweater and scarf.
Window Treatment, words by Deborah Zoe Laufer, music by Daniel Green, starring Farah Alvin; Portia Krieger, Director; Paul Masse, Musical Director. The Costume, by Daniel Zaitchik, starring Finn Douglas; Noah Himmelstein, Director; Deborah Abramson, Musical Director. Scaffolding, by Jeff Blumenkrantz; starring Rebecca Luker. Victoria Clark, Director; Benji Goldsmith, Musical Director.
INNER VOICES, presented by PREMIERES (Paulette Haupt, Artistic Director). Runs through through Saturday, November 17, 2018 at The TBG Mainstage Theatre (312 West 36th Street – between 8th & 9th Avenues). Run time 2 1/2 hours, with two 10-minute intermissions.