BWW Reviews: Extraordinary Performances Save ORDINARY DAYS
A word of caution to writers everywhere. Never use a word as bland as "ordinary" in the title of your work. Its use will either be prophetic or grossly inaccurate. In the case of Ordinary Days, it's a bit of both. While Penfold Theatre's production of the new chamber musical features some of the greatest talent that the Austin theater community has to offer, the material itself isn't up to par. The show is extraordinary, but the material is not.
The 2009 Off-Broadway musical by Adam Gwon focuses on four young people who struggle to find personal connection in the impersonal mecca that is New York City. Jason (Matthew Redden) wants to move forward in his relationship with Claire (Haley Smith), but she remains overly cautious and aloof. Meanwhile, grad student Deb (Sarah Marie Curry) has lost all of the notes for her thesis (why on earth does someone with a laptop keep notes in a notebook?) and finds a very unlikely friend in Warren (Joe Hartman) the lonely eccentric who finds her notes.
While Gwon's score is full of incredible character-building tunes, his motif regarding the hardships of connection finds its way into more areas than he intends. While it's clear that Gwon wants to give his characters a story arc, that arc is incredibly disjointed and vague given the absence of a book. It's also a bit problematic that the two storylines in a show about connection never truly come together, save for an overly symbolic and cheesy moment towards the end.
That said, Penfold's production makes the most of the problematic show. Instead of trying to mask the inherent issues in the material, director Michael McKelvey and his cast focus on creating fully realized, interesting characters. Matthew Redden and Haley Smith believably play a couple at the crossroad between moving forward and calling it quits. As the persistent boyfriend who longs to settle down, Redden gives a beautifully understated performance, and his big number "My Favorite Places" is breathtaking. He's so likeable, it's tough to initially understand his girlfriend's reluctance to commit. If a guy this sensitive and amiable shows some interest, you don't turn him away. After all, good guys are harder to find in New York than a rent-controlled apartment. However, there is a bit more to Claire's foot-dragging than we initially see. Haley Smith wonderfully fills in those grey areas in her eleven-o-clock number, "I'll Be Here," the emotional climax of the show and arguably the best number in Gwon's score.
While Jason and Claire's story may be a tad on the serious side, the story of Deb and Warren is wonderfully comedic. Joe Hartman plays Warren as a loveable clown (think of a male version of Zooey Deschanel). He's zany, quirky, and equal parts lunatic and philosopher. But it's Sarah Marie Curry as Deb who truly steals the show. With a voice booming with angst and sardonic humor, Curry gives one of the funniest performances I've seen in a long while. Watching her character slowly open up to Warren is a joy to witness.
Though Gwon hasn't written a masterpiece with Ordinary Days, Penfold Theatre's production is an enjoyable piece featuring four perfect performances. This cast is anything but ordinary.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
ORDINARY DAYS, produced by Penfold Theatre, plays The Off Center at 2211-A Hidalgo, Austin 78702 now thru Sunday, April 6th. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets are $18-$20. For tickets and information, please visit www.penfoldtheatre.com