BWW Reviews: Third Rail's MIDSUMMER Will Make You Sing in the Rain
I've never traveled abroad, but I'm going to have to get to Scotland soon so I can find the pub in Edinburgh where Bob met up with Helena. Clearly the place is magical. Maybe we can go there together.
David Greig's Midsummer (a play with songs) is a new twist on the standard boy-meets-girl story. We've all seen our share of romances, but this one is told with only two characters, a couple of thirtysomething Scots who are burned out on love and romance and just looking to hook up. Actually, Bob, a small-time criminal, is waiting in the pub to meet one of his associates, while Helena, stood up by her married boyfriend, just doesn't want to be alone. They manage to hook up, and while the sex isn't earth-shattering, the conversation is, and the two of them wind up spending the whole weekend together. I won't go into the details of their adventures (the play is filled with offbeat surprises) but they run the gamut from heartrending pathos to brilliant comedy. And while I recently complained about a play that had a lot of F-words in it (including its title), here the F-words seemed charming and sweet. (Maybe the accents take the sting out of the word?)
Bob and Helena tell us the story - this play doesn't even pretend to have a fourth wall - and they play all the other characters, regardless of gender. Each of them have secrets, which are parceled out slowly, though you'll be having too good a time to be thinking about any sort of plot. Mr. Greig probably wouldn't approve of this, but I found myself thinking of the brilliant romantic comedies of the English writer Richard Curtis, who gave us The Tall Guy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually. Midsummer has that crazy falling-in-love-despite-yourself feeling that the best romances give us.
A two-actor play is very dependent on its cast, who are onstage nonstop for nearly two hours, and director Philip Cuomo has chosen well. Isaac Lamb, a Third Rail mainstay, is funny, wretched, sexy, smart, and wild, showing off a complete range of feelings while keeping his character's grin firmly planted, even at the play's saddest moments. Cristi Miles is every bit his match, making Helena a modern woman with a professional career yet no idea what to do with her personal life. They manage to keep their Scots accents light enough so we can understand them, and they navigate the multi-character roles with aplomb. Miles does a great job at playing the various hoodlums in Bob's life, while Lamb has a knockout moment as a TV weathergirl. They even sound like Scots when they sing.
Yes, this is indeed a play with songs, as the title indicates. It's not a musical in the usual sense; the characters don't break into song to show us their feelings. The songs by Gordon McIntyre are more like the musical interludes in a romantic comedy film, or the occasional numbers in a Shakespeare comedy. Lamb and Miles are both capable singers, and they accompany themsevles on a variety of stringed instruments, along with a child's toy piano. The tunes are quite good, especially the one about hangovers. That should be required listening in every bar in town.
Director Cuomo keeps up with the varied moods of the play, sending his actors bounding all over the set yet never letting them lose sight of the deeper feelings the play is meant to touch. Set designer Demetri Pavlatos gives us a couple of benches, a bed, and a tree, and Cuomo and the cast turn that into the entire city of Edinburgh. Kristeen Crosser helps immensely with her lighting design, which ably defines the place, the time, and the mood of the moment with very simple effects. The show plays as smoothly as any I've ever seen.
Let me come up with a comparison playwright Greig might like better. Midsummer has the gossamer charm of the Irish musical film Once combined with the underlying sadness of the English indie film Weekend, but with all the laughs of your favorite knockabout farce. I say we all head over to Scotland and see what's lurking in that pub.