Regional Reviews: New Jersey
No Place to Go: Droll and Relevant Musical Theatre Cabaret
The Marion Huber Black Box Theatre at the Two River Theatre in Red Bank has been transformed into a very comfortable cabaret for the presentation of playwright-songwriter-bandleader-singer Ethan Lipton's No Place to Go. Lipton's first effort at integrating his musical and playwriting skills has resulted in a book musical in the form of a cabaret performance of Lipton and his band. Among the vibrant pleasures on display are Lipton's gentle humanity, off-beat comic sensibility, and unique, contemporary variations on a rather wide range of traditional American music including the classic American Songbook era, jazz and folk.
No Place to Go is an autobiographic musical in which Ethan Lipton is the central character. Although you may doubt me as you read on, everything on stage is totally believable. Well, maybe that leftover sandwich on the conference room table that is sad about being unwanted and left behind is a bit beyond allegoric, but you'll see what I'm getting at.
Ethan has held his civilian job for ten years. His company sells information. His job is to "re-form" that information into language and a style suitable to his company's publication format. It is a "permanent-part time job," which means that "I'm there for most of the work, but few of the benefits." Still, Ethan really likes his job, as we learn from his jaunty "I've Got a Place To Go In The Morning"; he likes the camaraderie of his colleagues, his work, and the opportunity to earn the money that enables him to pursue his art.
One day, Ethan and his co-workers are told that the company is moving out of town, to the planet Mars. Every employee will have the option of relocating, but ...
Given the cabaret styled production, the depth, emotion and realism with which the ensuing tide of events at Ethan's company is recounted is greater than one could ever expect. It also causes the viewer to turn his thoughts empathetically to the pain and setbacks which our depressed economy has brought to so many of our fellow Americans.
Simultaneously, there is a buoyancy and joyous satisfaction that pervades the very soul of No Place to Go. This is in part attributable to Ethan Lipton's quirky music and lyrics. Just a few examples of the song titles will provide a sense of them: "Shitstorm's Comin'," "When I Move in With My Aging Parents" and "Oy!, Oy!'Oy!"
For the most part, Lipton narrates his story and plays the various roles. Thus, No Place to Go might be described as a one man show. But, not so fast. For the members of the Ethan Lipton Orchestra are members of the company. There is something about the humanism and sensibility of Lipton that makes the characters in his story, along with the characters helping him to tell the storyVito Dieterle (Saxophone), Eben Levy (Guitar and Keyboard), and Ian M. Riggs (Upright Bass, Acoustic Guitar), all played by themselves, except for certain performances when Eben Levy is played by Rich Snelland the rest of us, are all part of one family living in a nation with diminished expectations. Which leads to the next reason for the exhilarating nature of No Place to Go. It is the ability of Lipton (the artist) to make us share the upbeat attitude of Ethan, the permanent-part-timer, and believe with certainty that we are surely determined to work longer and harder than we had once thought necessary in order to continue to pursue our dreams.
Director Leigh Silverman has wisely dropped the "encore" of a rousing old Pete Seeger labor rally type song of over half century ago (have no fear, senior citizen labor pioneers and folkies, we still got a WPA tribute song in the vernacular that is a delight). There was nothing wrong with the song itself, but its employment as a cabaret show "encore" vitiated the theatrical impact of the preceding musical play. My only quibble is with the lighting design. Whether blindingly flashing or then plunging the "company" into shadows and darkness, the hyperactive lighting effects suggest a mystifying lack of faith in the material.
No Place to Go was developed and presented at Joe's Pub at the NYSF Public Theatre
For those of us who love Manhattan and would never move away from the shadow of the Empire State Building, there is the further pleasure of Lipton's joyful illumination of our delight in it.
No Place to Go continues performances (Evenings: Wednesdays 7 pm; Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesdays 1 pm; Saturdays and Sundays 3 pm) through November 4, 2012 at the Two River Theatre Company, Marion Huber Theatre, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank 07701; Box Office: 732-345-1400 / online: www.trtc.org.
No Place to Go Written by Ethan Lipton; Music composed by Ethan Lipton, Eben Levy, Ian M. Riggs and Vito Dieterle and Performed by Ethan Lipton and his Orchestra; Directed by Leigh Silverman