BWW Review: Grace McLean's Intriguing Chamber Musical IN THE GREEN
Chamber musicals don't get much more chamber than composer/lyricist/bookwriter Grace McLean's In the Green, an intriguing new piece receiving its premiere at LCT3's Claire Tow Theater. Musically complex, dramatically abstract and, as presented by director Lee Sunday Evans, intensely intimate in style, In the Green may need some sharpening to clarify its storytelling, but as a whole it is an ambitious work that's worthy of the focused attention it demands.
McLean gets her inspiration from the life of German Benedictine abbess Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who, during the 12th Century, went from being a child who saw miraculous visions to a visionary in the fields of medicine and theology, while recognized for her artistic achievements in music and drama.
But the musical focuses on the early intellectual and spiritual development that, by separating young Hildegard from a society filled with gender restrictions, encouraged her to grow to her unlimited potential.
At the offset, 8-year-old Hildegard is represented very effectively by designer Amanda Villaobos' life-sized, faceless puppet. A quick scene establishes that, due to the child's illness, Hildegard's mother (Ashley Perez Flanagan) has arranged for her to serve as an oblate at the monastery at Disibodenberg. After handing her over to the monk Volmar (Rachael Duddy), and her symbolic funeral rites, she is locked into a tall tower where her basic needs will be met.
Given the solemn medieval atmosphere provided by designers Kristen Robinson (set), Oana Botez (costumes) and Barbara Samuels (lights)," the casual contemporary jargon of the scene is a bit jarring. ("Inside the cell she'll be technically dead, but super comfortable.")
For the next thirty years, Hildegard's constant companion and teacher is Countess Jutta von Sponheim, played by the author as a kind of spiritual rock diva. The role of Hildegard is soon shared by three adults (Duddy, Flanagan and Hannah Whitney), each of whom carries a symbol the earthly senses they must relinquish in order to obtain a more ethereal existence.
Eventually another side of Jutta, played by Mia Pak, is revealed. Having a quintet playing two roles allows McLean to present a rich display of harmonies from an eclectic score she co-orchestrates with Kris Kukul, revealing multiple texture of the characters.
The title refers to Jutta's encouragement to aspire to a state of continual growth, and after this premiere production, In the Green's author may be encouraged to do just that with her fascinating piece. But though the drama doesn't appear to be on the same level as the music, there is still an abundance of talent to be appreciated.