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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

World Premiere of Two One-Act Chamber Operas at NJ Rep

Also see Bob's review of Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage

Little Hours
Brooke Davis, Maria Couch, Kim Carson and Ashley Puckett Gonzalez
The Little Hours is the overall title for two one-act chamber operas, music and libretti by David Bucknam, based on the works of Dorothy Parker. Author David Bucknam has added to the challenges inherent in the creation of musical theater by creating two works featuring people who live drab, unhappy lives; neither grow nor change, nor have any change in their circumstances.

The opener provides the overall title for the evening. It is based on four Parker short stories: A Telephone Call, The Waltz, From the Diary of a New York Lady, and The Little Hours. The time is 1936, and the place is New York City. The piece is played in an enhanced black box setting, and consists of four largely sung monologues for women which are presented in short snippets as the sometimes overlapping words and music rotate among them. All four women are victims of men or, more accurately, their attitudes toward both men and themselves. "Diary" (Brooke Davis) is apparently a rich society woman whose awaits a husband who never comes home. She fills her empty life by keeping a diary and going to parties and theatre openings with procured, reluctant escorts. "Telephone" (Kim Carson) desperately clings to a telephone awaiting a call for a date from a hoped-for suitor whom she has recently met. "Waltz" (Ashley Puckett Gonzales) does not want to dance with any man, but most especially the man who is entreating her to dance a waltz with him. She cannot refuse him. She fancies that she would be happy if she could dance with the men already taken. This may be too cautious a formulation, but, to my mind, her feelings are that of a lesbian fighting to suppress her nature. "Hours" (Maria Couch) is a divorcee who goes to bed early and cannot sleep after four a.m. She desperately thrashes about and around her bed, finding distraction in reading French novels.

Most of the information to be gleaned is evident in the first ten minutes of the piece. And, although there is no plot, the women repetitiously talk and sing on and on of their respective plights for well over an hour to a mostly tuneless, note heavy, derivatively son-of-Sondheim score. There are quartets, most notably, the melodious and felicitous "The Woman of It for You," in which each joyfully sings of her determination to overcome her malaise. This determination evaporates with the final note of the aria/song. The turbaned Brooke Davis emphasizes the fatuousness of her society dame; Brooke Davis and Maria Couch display varying levels of hysteria as the other two "abandoned women"; and Ashley Puckett Gonzales plays the surface of the reluctant dancer who is the most elusive and interesting of the women. The entire cast sings the difficult score very well. Clearly, on the few occasions when a voice broke, it was due to the strain of preparing the demanding score for the opening performance.

Little Hours
Maria Couch, Brooke Davis, Warren Kelley, Kim Carson, Ashley Puckett Gonzales
Things certainly pick up after the intermission with the more successful Such a Pretty Little Picture suggested by the Dorothy Parker short story. The setting is the front garden of a house in contemporary Connecticut. Charles Corcoran's richly designed and colored cartoon-like set is a beauty. The work itself has the feel of the Leonard Bernstein one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti.

Suburban husband and father George Wheelock (Warren Kelley) narrates the desperately unhappy story of his life in the third person. Wheelock is a desperately unhappy man. He is distained by his wife, Adelaide (Brooke Davis), as physically inept and absent minded. His nasty, snobbish, man-hating daughter, Sister (Kim Carson), soon to be off to France after graduating from college, addresses him with cutting disrespect. The boredom of his daily commute and job weigh heavily upon him. George escape from these realities is to spend much of his leisure time trimming the hedges of his garden while glowingly narrating his life in the third person. For as long as he is trimming his hedges, George can convince himself that he is confident and in control, and that he is living a happy suburban family wife. He also engages in fantasies of romantic conquest, and, poignantly, of leaving work one day never to return again to his family or job. Most poignant is when Adelaide sings of her sorrow at not expressing the love that she feels inside for George and, immediately thereafter, jabbers on criticizing him.

Warren Kelley is delightful as George Wheelock, perfectly navigating that fine, elusive line where comedy and tragedy can co-exist in the same moment. Kelley also gets to sing the jauntiest melodies and cleverest lyrics of David Bucknam as he narrates his version of Gorge's life. Brooke Davis brings a range of colors to Adelaide. Kim Carson is truly hateful as their daughter. Maria Couch and Ashley Puckett Gonzales make valuable contributions as Adelaide's gossipy friends who (along with Brooke Davis) become the women in George's fantasies.

Musical director Helen Gregory does yeoman service brilliantly and flawlessly providing the entire production's musical accompaniment on the piano. Director Alan Souza has done an outstanding job in making the small, narrow stage feel like the perfect space for these works.

The formidably adventurous New Jersey Repertory Company has given David Bucknam's The Little Hours an exemplary production.

The Little Hours continues performances (Eves: Thurs. – Sat. 8 PM/ Sun. 7 PM; Mats: Sat. 3 PM/ Sun. 2 PM) through August 17, 2008 at the New Jersey Repertory Company Lumia Theatre, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166 / online: www.njrep.org.

The Little Hours by David Bucknam, based on the works of Dorothy Parker; directed by Alan Souza

Cast
Telephone, Sister………..................Kim Carson
Hours, Annabell…………………..Maria Couch
Diary, Adelaide…………………..Brooke Davis
Waltz, Midge…………Ashley Puckett Gonzales
George Wheelock………………..Warren Kelley


Photo: SuzAnne Barabas


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- Bob Rendell



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