Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Island Vacation Not Worth The Trip
Let me try to get this done quickly. Michael and Carrie, a childless couple from New York, are on the brink of the dissolution of their marriage. They arrive at a dumpy little lodging on the Jamaican coastal beach of the fishing village of Manchioneal. It was here that they honeymooned, and they hope to recapture the loving feeling that they had back then. They are greeted by the native proprietors, the dynamic Delia and her lazy, shiftless husband Sparks who won't bestir himself to make any of the building repairs that are desperately needed (it is as if we have learned nothing in the almost 80 years that have passed since Show Boat opened).
For almost the entire length of the musical, Michael spreads gloom to the maximum as he angrily and morosely rejects Carrie's efforts to overcome the distance that has opened between them. It seems that over a year ago Michael's beloved younger brother Dan died when he crashed his car while driving at 85 miles per hour in a 50 mile per hour zone. Michael states with certainty that Dan sped because was anxious to climb into the sack with a sexy girlfriend. For most of the evening, this is the only account we get of Dan's death. Only at the end will Michael reveal the true reason that he is in an emotional tailspin and gutting his marriage.
Oh, it also develops that Isabella, one of Delia and Sparks' three adult children, has died, and that Sparks has turned to a local mythic figure "Old Moses" to assuage his grief. Sparks can hear Moses chanting Soli-Oli-Eye, and this brings him peace. However, Sparks has grown distant from Delia, who will not give up Christianity for old village beliefs.
As time is running out on the New York couple's vacation and marriage, Michael is led by Sparks to the mountain to meet Moses. Michael hears Moses (actually, he is conned by the "wise" Sparks who hides himself and pretends to be the voice of Moses). Sparks/Moses says, "your guilt comes from your anger and your anger comes from your grief, and your grief comes from your heart and you must return to your heart." In the aura of this brilliant pronouncement, Michael reveals that he is guilt ridden for angrily having ordered Dan out of his house, placing him behind the wheel of his car while drunk, because Dan had told him that he was gay. Voila, Michael is cured of his depression ("I surrender, I'm ready to be loved again"), and all is right with him and Carrie . A few words from Delia, and Sparks realizes that Delia needs him, and all is right with them. Blame the devil, but I can't resist quoting one lyric which Michael has here: "I've just got to follow my light/ and it will leave me standing in the Cathedral of the Heart."
Although veteran composer-lyricist Peter Link first workshopped Island in 1981, he has more recently brought a couple of new book writers to the project to make extensive revisions. Sadly, they are to little avail. The book by Larry Rosler and Joe Bravaco is both silly and inept, and Link's lyrics are simplistic, repetitive and bombastic. In each of Michael's angry songs, the lyrics range from generic to plot specific without stopping for breath. As for Link's music, well it matches the lyrics. The calypso beats are generic, the ballads mostly deadening. However, I must allow that the music may not be as bad as it sounds. This is because casting a further pall on the proceedings is the fact that all of the music is recorded, and the simple, repetitive arrangements sound if they are being played on a synthesizer. A much better musical could hardly have survived this treatment.
Kenny Bart's perfunctory direction doesn't let us know at any given time whether we are inland, on a mountain or on the beach. As for the scenery, hanging a few sheets (and noting in the program that "the author's stage directions call for 'no attempt at realism' ... in reference to the set and props") is not good enough. Gary Lynch sings and performs well, although his angry intensity does not make for pleasant company. Tricia Burr (who will always have a special place in my heart for her magnificent Lizzie in 12 Miles' The Rainmaker) opens adorably, then seems to wither away, vocally and dramatically, under the onslaught of both Michael and the poor material that she has to perform. Adam Wade is a dullish, overly laidback Sparks. Gwen Ricks-Spencer is the only performer who breaks through the ennui. She is lively and likeable, and manages to sing up a storm as Delia. She has charm to spare in an evening which is otherwise lacking in any.
Island continues performances (Thurs., Fri, and Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 3 p.m.) through December 17, 2006 at 12 Miles West Theatre Company Center for the Arts, 562 Bloomfield Avenue, Bloomfield, NJ 07003. Box Office: 973-259-9187; online 973-259-9187
Island Music and Lyrics by Peter Link; book by Larry Rosler and
Joe Bravaco; directed by Lenny Bart