BWW Review: THREE WAY Makes Sex Last Too Long at BAM
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there lived a place called Broadway, where you could find still find bills of one-act plays that, more often than not, offered titillation into then-current sexual practices and innovations. Zoom forward 40 years or so and opera has finally caught up with this oh-so-shocking (but-not-really) form of entertainment, with the local premiere of THREE WAY by Robert Paterson and David Cote, directed by John Hoomes.
It had its premiere Thursday night at BAM's Fisher Space, under the aegis of American Opera Projects (which sponsored its development) and Nashville Opera (where it debuted in January), in a production designed by Randy Williams with lighting and video by Barry Steel, costumes by Matt Logan and wigs by Sondra Nottingham. While it offered some attractive performances--the singing and acting was at a high level--and a lively, jazz inflected score, even tired businessmen (and -women) have outgrown this kind of feather-weight diversion.
The evening--which clocked in at about three hours--consisted of a trio of pieces: THE COMPANION (about man, woman and robot), SAFE WORD (the world of pay-for-play S&M) and MASQUERADE (that old standby, swinging). They had two things in common: They were way too long: Sometimes when you can describe a work in 25 words or so, that's about as long as it should be, And, oh yes, they generated less heat than a good production of TOSCA can work up in 10 minutes.
Despite some character clichés, the first was the best, which, unfortunately, made the rest of the evening feel longer. The title character of THE COMPANION is a good-looking male android (the clarion tenor Samuel Levine) who cooks, cleans and performs sexually for his owner (Danielle Pastin, a soaring soprano), too busy with her career to have time for any real relationship. When the tech guy (the vibrant baritone Wes Mason) comes by to service some glitches in the robot's software and expresses interest in the woman of the house, a little class-ism proceeds to thwart his attempts. It takes the intervention of the android to show that love-- whether artificially intelligent or human--still conquers all.
For those who don't know, in the world of S&M, a "safe word" lets the dominator know that she has gone too far. Here, it might have let the librettist know that the story hadn't gone far enough, even with its surprise ending. Mezzo Eliza Bonet made for a lusty, full voiced dominatrix (or is she?) while the robust baritone Matthew Trevino was properly obnoxious, then compliant, as the businessman (or is he?).
Part of the problem with MASQUERADE was that there were too many characters who had to have their say but were underdeveloped. There were a pair of songs that managed to stand out as their characters evolved, however: Countertenor Jordan Rutter, as half of a postgender couple, gave a gorgeous, contemplative look at the person inside his outward bluster, while baritone Mason had some amusing, energetic moments at opera's first aria about erectile disfunction (heard previously at the kickoff for Operafest in April).
Librettist Cote, a long-time theatre critic, surely knows about what "book problems" can do to deflate a piece of musical theatre, even one with Paterson's good, pungent score, given a nimble, frisky performance by the American Modern Ensemble under Dean Williamson. It's too bad director Hoomes--who had some good ideas in conceiving and directing the production--didn't, ahem, crack the whip to get the bill into better shape.