Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Once began its life as a sweet 2007 movie from Ireland that starred Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who also wrote the songs including the Oscar-winning "Falling Slowly." Playwright Enda Walsh adapted the book from John Carney's screenplay, and Hansard and Irglovácontributed additional songs to the stage version.
Before the show actually begins, the actorsall of whom, except for a child, play a range of instrumentsput on an informal concert in character as street buskers, accepting tips from the audience. (Unlike the Broadway and tour productions, Michael Schweikardt's shape-shifting set doesn't include a bar where audience members can mingle with the actors and buy drinks before the show and during intermission.)
As the story is about musicians, director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge paces the action so the dialogue scenes flow easily into the songs and back again.
At the heart of Once are a guitarist and songwriter identified only as Guy (Gregory Maheu), despondent because the woman he loves left Dublin for New York City, and Girl (Malinda Kathleen Reese), a Czech immigrant who is a classical pianist but is drawn to Guy's singing. Their growing connection extends to other musicians, to Billy (Dave Stishan), a music store owner who lets Girl play his floor model piano, to the other Czech immigrants with whom Girl lives, even to the bank manager (Nick DePinto) they approach for a loan to cover the rental of a recording studio. (The rapport that develops between Stishan and DePinto, whose character has an unexpected love of music, is delightful.)
Guy is a man of few words, but Maheu brings him to life with deep empathy and sensitivity. Reese ably conveys both Girl's solemn exterior and her fun-loving side, which comes out especially in the scenes with her mother (Emily Mikesell, unflappable even while playing an accordion) and her live-wire friend Réza (Daven Ralston). Craig MacDonald gives a beautifully subtle performance as Guy's taciturn father.
Olney Theatre Center