Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio, has earned a strong reputation for presenting both popular classics and newer challenging pieces of theater. With their Musical Theatre Workshop Series, they have also staged readings of new or lesser-known musicals. The current production of Convenience marks the first time the regional company has mounted a full production of a show they had previously staged as a musical workshop. Convenience is even better this time around. With its rough spots smoothed out, the show has indeed proven to be a solid, interesting, moving, and entertaining musical.
Convenience is the story of Vince, a closeted homosexual, and his mother Liz. Twenty-six year old Vince is unable to commit to moving in with his boyfriend Ethan due to the unresolved issues of his childhood. Ethan encourages Vince to take a trip home in order to deal with his conflict, mend the broken relationship with his mother, and "out" himself to her as well. At the same time, Liz is trying to deal with guilt about her failed marriage to Vince's father, her difficulties with her son, and a recent marriage proposal from her friend Abe. Vince's visit brings back a flood of painful memories and stressful situations for both mother and son. With the help of their lovers, as well as the ghosts of their former selves, they seek to share their secrets, re-establish their bond, and move forward in life.
The music, lyrics, and book for Convenience are all the work of Gregg Coffin. The score is quick, complex, highly theatrical, and extremely catchy. Most of the songs are either sung-dialogue or introspective ballads, oftentimes reminiscent of the work of William Finn. Some of the best numbers include "Tell Her/Tell Him," "Waking Vince," "Un," "Love Has The Power," and "Moving Day."
Coffin's book effectively mixes humor and tension and is witty and sincere. The concept of the "convenience" of avoiding conflict instead of dealing with the unresolved issues between the characters is clearly stated and reinforced, and numerous metaphors concerning "doors" are also successfully used. The characters are appealing, detailed, and realistically flawed.
Jim Poulos displays a fully capable singing voice, communicates a full emotional arc, and skillfully embodies the conflicted nature of the lead character Vince. As Liz, Lucinda Hitchcock Cone turns in a well-rounded portrayal of this complicated character. Zach Hanna impressively supplies much of the show's comedy relief as both Ethan and Young Vince. As Young Liz, Melissa Rain Anderson is the only returning cast member from the workshop a year ago. She brings a strong, confident singing voice and an endearing quality to the role. Human Race regular Scott Stoney performs expectedly well as Abe. The cast exhibits strong chemistry, which is no doubt aided by the fact that Polous and Anderson are married in real life.
Director Kevin Moore guides this cast brilliantly and supplies an aptly quick pace, smooth transitions, and a smart balance between the humorous and serious moments of the piece. An even greater accomplishment is Moore's successful staging of the ghosts of the two lead characters' memories of themselves. The current Vince and Liz talk to their own younger selves (played by the other actors). The use of this device could prove confusing, but thanks to both Coffin's writing and Moore's direction, it is clearly communicated. Gerald Rheault leads a talented three-piece band.
The abstract yet effective scenic design by Haibo Yu features a unit set flanked by doors of various sizes, furthering the "door" metaphors introduced in the text. The fine lighting by John Rensel includes some clever shadow projections, and the costumes by Mary Beth McLaughlin are suitable.
Convenience is a musical theater piece deserving of a long and fruitful life. An interesting story, first-rate songs, a fine cast, and professional direction and design make Convenience a must-see for theater lovers in Southwest Ohio and beyond. The show is a co-production with the Sacramento Theatre Company, who will present the musical following the Dayton run.
Convenience continues at the Human Race Theatre Company through February 1, 2004. For performance and ticket information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org-- Scott Cain