Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
A Second Chance
In his first work for the musical theater, Ted Shen has taken the ambitious step of writing book, music and lyrics in a story following the tentative relationship between a recent widower, still in mourning, and a divorced woman looking for a fresh start. While Shen describes the work as sung-through with a few lines of dialogue, it might better be described as a song cycle.
Shen has noted the personal inspiration for the work: how, after his own wife died, he found a new start with the woman he married five years ago. Perhaps for that reason, the man's storyline is much clearer than that of the woman.
The setting is contemporary New York, where Dan and Jenna meet at a mutual friend's dinner party. He's a banker (though "not a jerk," as Jenna tells a friend) whose wife of 15 years recently died; he's attracted to Jenna, but worries that he would be disloyal to his wife's memory by finding a new love. The score delineates Dan's motivations, most directly through a soliloquy song, "Damaged Goods."
Jenna is more of a generic character with her trendy oversized sweaters, big glasses, and love of snowy walks in Central Park and visits to art museums and the ballet. Unlike Dan, she says little about the pain of her divorce, preferring to look forward to find "someone to fall madly in love with." The author also elides the question of whether Jenna and Dan are members of the same social class: she never says much about her job at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where she could be anything from a technician to a surgeon.
Shen is up front about his musical influences, dropping the all-important name of Stephen Sondheim (whom the lyric describes as "beyond rhyme") as he incorporates intricate Sondheimian rhythms with sprinklings of Brazilian and jazz idioms. His lyrics have their occasional ragged moments, such as when he rhymes "destiny" with "best in me" and "cut you slack" with "watch your back."
Jonathan Butterell has created a sleek, polished production that is all about the two actors and the five musicians led by Zak Sandler. Robert Brill's scenic design consists of pieces of Lucite furniture; Rocco DiSanti's projections set the scenes, from the interior of a New York subway car to street and window views.