By Holli Harms
About Love, a play with music and songs written and directed by Will Pomerantz and now playing at The Sheen Center was inspired by Ivan Turgenev’s beautifully crafted short story, “First Love,” originally published in 1860. But do not, I repeat, do not, read the story or look up anything about Turgenev before you see this production, and do, I repeat do, see this production.
Remember that feeling when you were sixteen, of falling in love with someone just a little older, nineteen or twenty? You would spend hours in their company and still want more. They were the most beautiful handsome interesting person in the room and everyone was falling over themselves, or else they were idiots.
That is precisely what is happening to sixteen-year-old Peter (quintessentially played by Jeffrey Kringer), in this coming of age story set in 19th century Russia. Peter’s family has taken a summer home away from the city, and the cottage next door to theirs has an occupant, a down and out Princess (hilariously played by Helen Coxe), and her twenty-something daughter, Zina (the marvelous Silvia Bond). Zina is that creature of youth, so beautiful and sexy and playful, that she drives everyone crazy with her charms. She not only owns her power, she unabashedly uses it.
Bond’s Zina is so naughty and tempting, it is a blast to watch her weave her immature and captivating webs. She has nightly parties at her home with the guests being, four male suitors and her. The men vary in age and rank and all are mad for her and her antics of fun and love and a tad of torture thrown in for good measure. There is Count Malevsky (Coxe), Captain Markov (Tom Patterson), Dr. Lushin (Dan Domingues), and Maidonov, the poet (Jean Tafler). Each night they get together and play the come hither games Zina conjures. They like their tight-knit group of four, but then Peter arrives, and the four become five, and that fifth is closest to Zina’s age and becomes her true puppy – following and obeying. She likes her games with Peter the most. But there is something else going on, Zina has more to her than this silly sorted fun. Peter’s journey is such a delicious, difficult journey. He is discovering what disappointment can bring to your doorstep and Kringer plays this with open-heart abandonment.
The stage is a beautiful raised platform surrounded by large trunks of birch. The set is minimal – mostly chairs – which places focus on story and performers. Zina and Peter are always themselves, but the rest of the cast changes from one character to another with a simple skirt or hat or jacket. Everything is exposed. The actors when not on stage settle down by the birches and observe. They all share in the narrative of the story of Peter and his summer of love with Zina. Everyone is picture-perfect.
It is, simply put, an intriguingly exuberant evening about first love, forbidden love, and the games that get played in-between.
Will Pomerantz’s writing is enchanting. His staging smart and fast and not a moment wasted. Both flow like a babbling Russian river.
The music and lyrics, by jazz singer and composer Nancy Harrow are sublime. The live band so subtle and perfect, their renditions of Harrow’s music like a wonderful score to a film that is simply a part of the story, except at times in this story the music leads an actor to song. This is the dreamy Russian folk-like music with the anticipated evocative melancholy.
About Love is a romp of good storytelling and the path that the story takes with its twists and turns will be surprising, I repeat, surprising only if you DO NOT read anything about Turgenev or his short story this is based on. Read about them AFTER, you’ll thank me.
Culture Project presents About Love, a new play with songs and music. Music and lyrics by jazz artist Nancy Harrow and script and direction by Will Pomerantz
With: Silvia Bond, Helen Coxe, Dan Domingues, Jeffrey Kringer, Tom Patterson, and Jean Tafler
Production: scenic design by Brian Staton, costume design by Whitney Locher, lighting design by Allen Hahn, sound design by Connor Brent, musical direction by Misha Josephs, musical arrangements by Alphonso Horne and Owen Broder, and stage management by Abigail Strange.
F.ebruary 25 through March 22 at The Sheen Center (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC) in the Black Box Theater. Tickets are available online HERE, by phone at 212-925-2812, or in-person at The Sheen Center box office Monday to Friday noon to 5PM and one hour before performances.
Run Time: 95 minutes with no intermission