Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

I Come For Love

Jason & Ben

Part of The New York Musical Theatre Festival

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

I Come For Love

The grandest aim Terrence Atkins and Jeffrey Lyle Segal have for I Come For Love is to promote changing romance from the international language to the universal one - Ed Wood style. Lofty symbolism and heavy doses of meaning are utterly absent in this refreshingly retro musical, which is far from a stellar piece of writing, but is warm and whimsical enough, and possessing enough inventive staging (by Michael Berry), to land safely and comfortably.

The story centers on everyone's favorite purported UFO crash cover-up: Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. Here, though, the alien (Jodie Langel) is real, female, and beautiful: Her designation is Nine-0, and she's come to Earth to explore the concept of love that's unknown on her world. She doesn't find it with her first contact, the young Everyman Floyd (Adam Hose), but does with her second, the on-the-outs reporter Scoop O'Reilly (Joe Barbara) who's come to town trying to dredge up a way to kickstart his stalled career. While they court, they also help Floyd wrest his beloved, Bessie (Anna Eilinsfeld), from her violent beau Rusty (Jarid Faubel), and outrun the military man (Dan Guller) who's hot on the trail of the extraterrestrial bombshell.

There are too few new ideas at work for the writers to easily generate momentum during the first act: The script travels light years between numbers, with the musty jokes and roundly befuddled characterizations (if Scoop were any more hard-boiled, for example, he'd be dipped in paint for Easter) making the show at times look less simple than simpleminded. But waves of showstoppers crest following the intermission, from the soaring duet "Shooting Star" for Nine-0 and Scoop, "She's Only a Story" for Scoop's I-can-live-without-her power-belt moment, "Nothing Is Stopping Me" for Nine-0's own moment of defiance, and "Every Day" for Bessie's wise mother (Michelle Foor) when it's finally time for another couple to pair off.

If the show itself is on the derivative side, borrowing freely from the Postwar Hit Parade, every song has been translated with sensitivity and taste. Much the same is true of the charmingly cheesy special effects: A garbage can lid becomes a flying saucer, a precisely tossed baseball transforms becomes a celestial event in the show's handsomest moment, and spotlights and drums transform air into iris openings and invisible walls, summoning up the spirit of the era's low-budget sci-fi films while still remaining thrillingly theatrical.

Langel is adorably affectionate as Nine-0, capturing all her saucy innocence with a winning wide-eyed enthusiasm. The rest of the cast is functional but unremarkable, making more of an impression in group numbers (including a priceless parody of Hollywood's propagandistic jingoism at the start of the second act) than in the solos. But that makes sense, in a way: The lesson Nine-0 wants to teach the misguided Earthlings is that everyone is better off with someone else. If I Come For Love would be better off with another draft or two and more pace-focused rehearsal time, it's already a delightful Valentine to vagaries of B-movies, the loneliness of outer space, and the capacity of our own inner hearts.

Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York Musical Theatre Festival

Jason & Ben

As a librettist, Matthew Loren Cohen is a highly agreeable songwriter. Every number in Cohen's musical Jason & Ben plumbs the depths of seasonal affective despair, from debilitating breakups to psychological uncertainty, to secret celebrity crushes surfacing at the most inopportune time (for the record, Jake Gyllenhaal, during a makeout session with someone else). But whenever Jason (Zach Fischer) and Ben (Will Taylor) shun the singing in favor of talking, they start behaving like they're auditioning for a dinner-theatre production of Edward Albee's The Zoo Story - not exactly the warm Christmas tale these two potential soul mates should be sharing one chilly December 24.

This chronicle of the duo's evening becomes increasingly twisted as the 90-minute show unfolds, leaving each man wondering who the other - and himself - really is. But while Cohen and his director, James Beaudry, constantly keep the action percolating at a guessing-game bubble, it's not enough to compensate for the one-note characters. As written and acted, they're doctor and patient, brother and brother, lover and lover, even violator and violated, but seldom more than one at a time, and never with the complex inner lives that must be present in any two-character play or musical. As the show is essentially one long bicker session, the individual definition of the combatants is crucial - and almost entirely missing.

It finds its most satisfying form in the songs, which generally compel with their tunefulness and their undercurrents of contrasting shuffling dissatisfaction at two different age thresholds (early 20s for Ben, early 30s for Jason): "93" tracks a busted relationship from its start to its finish, with infectious precision; "No One Caring" and "You'll Be Back" are blistering tactics for peeling away the protective skin of lies and half truths; and "Save Me" and "Alaska" are unusual, if moving, depictions of male bonding between two men struggling with connection.

The two spend most of their talk time never gleaning the most basic meaning of what the other is trying to say - or not say. That's much of Cohen's point: that talking with someone else is the first and most important step to understanding that person as well as yourself, and that miscommunication of fact, opinion, or intent could have bloody consequences. For the most part, you can figure out what's happening on your own, but the easiest way is to tune out the dialogue, zone in on the songs, and hope for the best: As Jason and Ben talk past each other, they also have a nasty habit of talking past you.

Tickets online, Venue information, and Performance Schedule: The New York Musical Theatre Festival

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