All In Production of "Ordinary Days" continues string of the extraordinary
"These little town blues
Are melting away
I'll make a brand new start of it
In old New York"
One of the most famous of all Frank Sinatra songs, a staple of patriotic occasions and karaoke bars, comes to life in the delightful chamber musical piece opened over the weekend by the ever-compelling folks at All In Productions.
"Ordinary Days" by Adam Gwon, got it's start at the prestigious Roundabout Theatre off-Broadway in 2008 and this delightful little show has gratefully been brought to Milwaukee to open the second season for this daring and inventive little company.
The play, entirely sung by a cast of four, all of whom can act and sing, is about twenty-somethings who are plunging headlong into both New York, along with its joys and challenges, and with life.
All of them are trying to create their own "big picture" goal for their uncertain lives and we are initially introduced to each character, one by one.
Warren (Dan Tellez) is first and he is the embodiment of the uncertain semi-adult, reduced to house sitting for a cat belonging to a jailed guerilla artist. Warren spends his days handing out small slips of paper with the kind of sayings that sound like the kind of thing that old women might crochet on little pieces to give to their grandchildren. Think "The Key to Success Unlocks Many Doors," or "Live is Like An Express Train: There is Always Another One on the Way."
Not only does Warren not know how he's going to get to to his big picture, he's not even sure what his big picture is. When first we meet Warren he finds a book on the street, a book handwritten by someone.
Deb (Jade Taylor) comes next, a graduate student in English,struggling to write her thesis on Virginia Woolf. She loses her book of research, she thinks on the subway. She is from a "suburb of a suburb" and has arrived in New York, certain of her big picture and how she is going to get there. She's going to get her graduate degree, write a book, get a fancy apartment in New York and reign over as an idol to her world of readers.
Jason (Billy Krager) is tall and gangly guy about to move in with his girlfriend. He's looking for places to store his stuff, packed into a box. They have been together for years and this move is to overcome the "Space Between" the two apartments. He's walked those 14 blocks every day and he prompted the move together, into her apartment and he begins to rearrange the furniture.. For him this the move is a symbol of where he feels this whole thing is going to go.
"Merge our two apartments into one
And we'll feel like we've begun."
Finally we meet the girlfriend, Claire (Beth Leinss), who is saddened and worried over a box of little things she has been saving, an old sweater, a ticket for a long bygone concert, a notebook, an old birthday card.
"My life must be more
Than the sum of this stuff
Something moves you from within
Like, say, your boyfriend moving in."
For Claire, the path to her big picture is :Letting Go," but she leaves us wondering just what it is she must let go of, it surely must be more than is the detritus of her life kept in a cardboard box.
Once we meet all four of these uncertain kids, we are off and running. To a person they don't understand the thing that at their age, in their positions, being uncertain about your big picture and how you might fit into it, is the way life is supposed to work.
Warren and Deb meet so he can return her book. She is initially suspicious and dismissive of him. As both life and theater would have it, they grow closer and closer as the play moves on.
For Jason and Claire it is a case of basing their coupling on tangible occasions of their lives, the visits to places they've been and experiences they've shared.
Our first real hint of trouble in their paradise is when they visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
"He likes the Masters
While I prefer wackier things
So of course we wind up
In separate wings."
The play heads, at the end, to a happier time for both couples. The eventual realization of what Claire is letting go of is one of those moving moments on state that will stay with you forever.
Each of these four actors are delightfully able to fully develop their characters. There are no operatic voices here but they sound like singers who know the words are vital to any song that is supposed to convey a feeling or an emotion or a story.
This production continues a very strong series of fascinating and risky plays, all of which have been wonderful productions. Their first season delivered "Dogfight," "Little Shop of Horrors," The Shape of Things" and "The Last Five Years." The quality they delivered in each of them is surprising for such young people with mainly community theater experience behind them.
This town is much richer off for having them in our theater galaxy and their second season is one that I anticipate with great interest and expectation.
"Ordinary Days" runs through April 3 at the Tenth Street Theatre and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.
Production Credits: Director, J. T. Backes; Music Director, Patrick Thompson; Scenic Designer,Burt Gross; Costume Designer Christy Siebers; Lighting Designer, Alan Piotrowicz; Stage Manager, Nancy Backes; Production Manager, Alex Sheurell.
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