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THE STORY OF MY LIFE Review Roundup
by Robert Diamond - February 20, 2009
The Story of My Life is a new musical which tells the story of two childhood friends and how that friendship profoundly defined their lives. Thomas Weaver is a best-selling, award-winning author. Alvin Kelby was his best friend for 30 years. But time can test the bonds of friendship, and when it does, Thomas calls on the only resource he has - his stories of Alvin - to learn where things went wrong. A richly melodic musical, The Story of My Life is a soaring tribute to the power of friendship and the people who change our lives forever.
David Rooney, Variety: "If the description "an original story about friendship, success and the choices we make at the turning points in our lives" sounds generic, it is. "The Story of My Life" is a singing Hallmark card. The show hijacks Bobby from "Company" and folds him into a labor-of-creativity scenario a la "Sunday in the Park With George," then pussyfoots coyly around its burning question of unrequited, undeclared love. This flavorless new musical is not exactly terrible, but it's not terribly interesting, either, which makes you wonder why its producers thought it belonged on Broadway. Whatever the reason, it's unlikely to be staying long."
Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press: "Bartram's lyrics are nimble, often intricate but never too complicated for his spare melodic lines that often feel as if they are an homage to the reigning king of Broadway, Stephen Sondheim."
Robert Feldberg, Bergen Record: "The Story of My Life" doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but it's humane, sincere, bright and funny - and how can you resist a show with a lyric like that?"
Frank Scheck, The NY Post: "Director Richard Maltby Jr. fails to leaven the overall tedium. The actors are similarly adrift. While Gets at least provides some intensity to his turn as the neurotic Alvin, Chase fails to bring any life to his blandly repressed character, signaling emotions mainly by putting on or removing his jacket."
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "I am here to report that a musical opened Thursday night at the Booth Theater that possesses all these elements. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the commercially savvy will be rushing to copy "The Story of My Life," a two-character portrait of a friendship by Neil Bartram (songs) and Brian Hill (book), starring the appealing team of Will Chase and Malcolm Gets. You see, the creators of this production, which is directed by Richard Maltby Jr., have taken their reducing program a little too far. In addition to jettisoning the usual excesses of tourist-trapping extravaganzas, they have tossed away such niceties as originality, credibility, tension and excitement. I don't think it's spoiling anything to tell you that Mr. Gets's character is dead when the show begins. So, for all practical purposes, is "The Story of My Life.""
Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: "The music, which is contempo rary and pleasant enough, isn't distinctive and lacks variety. What makes it most noteworthy is that it recalls "Sunday in the Park With George." Cadging from Stephen Sondheim isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's far from the best thing when you're debuting as a fresh talent."
Linda Winer, Newsday: "It would be lovely to be able to say nice things about "The Story of My Life," the two-man musical that showed up on Broadway last night with no hype and lots of obvious care. But, really. The 90-minute show, written and composed by newcomers from Toronto, is banal, improbable and unrelentingly derivative. And boring? Please. The production, directed by Richard Maltby Jr., does have a handsome dreamlike set by Robert Brill and engaging performances by Will Chase and Malcolm Gets."
Mourning Becomes Electra: My Heart Belongs To Daddy
by Michael Dale - February 20, 2009
It was believed by many back in 1932, as it still is today, that the only reason Eugene O'Neill was not awarded that year's Pulitzer Prize for his Mourning Becomes Electra, an epic retelling of Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy that declares Sigmund Freud as the true victor of the American Civil War, was that after granting him top honors for Beyond The Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922) and Strange Interlude (1928) the gang at Columbia figured enough was enough. So history was made that year when the Gershwin, Gershwin, Kaufman & Ryskin lark Of Thee I Sing became the first musical so honored, leaving O'Neill waiting until after his death to nab another, for Long Day's Journey Into Night.
With its Wagnerian length (the original production took up 6 hours) 16 roles and challenging themes involving what Freud called the Oedipus Complex and the Feminine Oedipus Attitude (called the Electra Complex by Jung), productions of this culturally significant and theatrically fascinating play by the 20th Century's first great American master are not a frequent occurrence, though those occurrences should be cause for impromptu celebratory dancing in Shubert Alley. Regretfully, Scott Elliott's mood-less, badly acted and emotionally barren production mounted by The New Group is cause for staying home and reading the script.
The first clue of impending doom, or at least a fidgety night, might be the exceedingly chilly temperature audience members are greeted with when they enter the Acorn Theatre; a practice usually employed when someone in power feels the need to keep the customers alert and awake. (An usher confirmed it was a regular occurrence and not just a heating problem the night I attended.) Early arrivals may want to take their Playbills and wait in the lobby until showtime, since the house lights are kept far too dim for pre-performance reading. The tomblike atmosphere achieved by the chill and the darkness certainly suit the piece, as do set designer Derek McLane's black drapes that not only hang upstage for the length of the playing area but reach up the two side aisles to the back of the house, where actors frequently make exits and entrances. He and lighting designer Jason Lyons pull off a couple of neat moments in their sparse depiction of a grand mansion but despite any artistic achievement, I frequently found it difficult to decipher any of the shadowy facial expressions by the actors from my seat in the 9th row.
O'Neill cleverly refashions the Greek Agamemnon's return home after victory over Troy into General Ezra Mannon's New England homecoming after Robert E. Lee's surrender. As in the Greek myth, the Mannon Estate is cursed with a scandalous past and the worst is yet to come. In three plays, The Homecoming, The Hunted and The Haunted, we witness the murder of Mannon by his adulterous wife, Christine, who makes it look like a natural death, and the revenge taken by their daughter Lavinia, despite resistance from her war-wounded brother, Orin. Done well, the lengthy evening (this production clocks in at four hours and eight minutes) can zip by, rewarding audiences with chilling moments of bloodshed, lust and vengeance. But the dirty doings are quite dreary at the Acorn.
The two lead performers seem lost on stage. Lili Taylor emotionlessly speeds through many of her scenes like she has a 10:30 dinner reservation, occasionally letting out unmotivated fury that lacks any kind of dramatic support. Jena Malone never manages to embody Lavinia; her frail look, soft voice and glazed expression (the lights eventually get bright enough to see it) defying any attempts at rage, seduction or agony. The reason for her cropped hair is questionable but trying to figure out why costume designer Susan Hilferty gives her a gown for the third play that has her looking ready for cocktails with Gertie Lawrence is baffling.
The dependable Mark Blum delivers a dignified portrayal as the general, though he's made to look a bit silly at the end of The Homecoming. As the leader of a Greek chorus of townspeople, who deliver many of their expository lines directly to the audience, Robert Hogan gives an amusingly folksy turn.
Since they carry the burden of presenting Elliott's static direction, featuring pacing that tends to alternate the muddy with the over-caffeinated, all I'll say about the rest of the company is that when a group of professional actors in a high-profile Off-Broadway production display a collection of broad-stroked, plainly-delivered, unskilled and perfunctory performances like some of the ones that occupy the Acorn these days, the fault most likely lies with a higher power.
Photos by Monique Carboni: Top: Jena Malone and Lili Taylor; Bottom: Jena Malone and Robert Hogan
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