Monday, July 25, 2016

Theater Review: MIdsummer, A Play with Songs -- TheaterWorks

Rebecca Hart and M. Scott McLean. Photo: Lanny Nagler
A Song-filled, Magical Summer Night
By Lauren Yarger
Think Once set in Scotland instead of Ireland and you have a pretty quick take on Midsummer: (A Play with Songs) getting its delightful New England premiere at TheaterWorks.

The two hander, starring M. Scott McLean as Bob and Rebecca Hart at Helena, two folks who shouldn’t get together, but do.

David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s script is part narrative, part first-person action and part song. Directed by Tracy Brigden, the engaging characters meet in an Edinburgh pub on Midsummer night. Helena is waiting for a man. She wants to get a bit drunk and have some no-strings-attached sex so she can forget about a secret that may change her whole life. She finds instant attraction with Bob, who earns a living on the wrong side of the law.

The action jumps through events from their past to the present, where they find themselves seeing each other again after what they thought would be a one-time encounter (their sexual encounter is shared for all of us to witness in a most amusing manner as directed by Bridgen and aided by basic stage props on the austere set backdropped by a hodgepodge of furniture and other cast off items (design by Narelle Sissons, who also designs the costumes). A pair of shoes transformed Helena into a bridesmaid; a chair becomes a car or a toilet.

Another scene has Bob having a conversation with his male reproductive equipment about what they really want from a relationship (many of the male members of the audience were very amused). The dialogue throughout is crisp and witty. So are the lyrics (both performers play the guitar and sing tunes composed by Greig (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the musical) and McIntyre, lead singer and songwriteƧr for ballboy, an Edinburgh based band . The album Midsummer is a solo album of songs written for the show.

“If my hangover were a country, it would be Belgium,” sings Helena. Now that’s funny stuff.

In a bizarre twist of plans, the two end up enjoying a wild midsummer money-spending spree and find themselves falling in love. McLean and Hart are in sync on stage, both musically and physically. The chemistry between the actors is apparent from the start and sparks reactions as heat turns up on the Bunsen burner of their relationship.

A couple of criticisms: the play at more than 100 minutes without intermission could use a trim – especially to fix a couple of false endings. In addition, it’s hard to warm up to the characters until later in the show because they are making such poor choices (one reason we stay with them is because the actors make them so engaging). Since we jump around in time a bit any way, maybe a teaser early on to let us know these folks have some hope might be in order.


Overall, TheaterWorks ends its 30th anniversary season with a bang. Midsummer plays through Aug. 21 at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $15-$65; (860) 527-7838; www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Credits:
By David Greig and Gordon McIntyre; Directed by Tracy Brigden; Assistant to the Director: Eric Ort; Scenic and Costume Design by Narelle SissonsAssociate Set Design by Lucy Pope, Lighting Design by Andrew Ostrowski, Sound Design by Liz Atkinson.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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