BWW Review: Rarely Produced IN TROUSERS Intrigues at the Lounge
When I saw Stephen Sondheim's Company on Broadway in the early 1970s, I was overwhelmed by the speed at which the ensemble said their lines, sang their songs and just moved across the stage. I knew I was in the presence of genius, but I had to really listen and focus in order to keep up with them and understand what was happening. William Finn's In Trousers, composed in 1979 and revised in 1985 for off-Broadway and... so rarely produced, is akin to Company in this way. It moves with the speed of light, and the four actors never let down for a second. Later Finn composed March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, put together as Falsettos. These two along with In Trousers have often been referred to as the Marvin Trilogy. In Trousers was the very first musical to introduce Marvin, looking back on his teen years to try to fathom how he grew to love men more than women. Now in its first revival since the 1980s, In Trousers is bravely and boldly presented at the Lounge by Knot Free Productions through November 3 only.
In a kaleidoscope of song and dance - with merely two or three lines of dialogue - Marvin (Braxton Molinaro) and his three lady friends, high school girlfriend (Lea Madda), teacher Miss Goldberg (Michelle Lane) and his wife Trina (Tal Fox) pull us in as they move fast and furiously around the stage, up to the bandstand, across it and down, even cavorting on a rollout bed. We're told that it's all about love. Marvin needs love. In the 9th grade he pursues his teacher Miss Goldberg as he presents an eight scene play about Christopher Columbus who was madly in love with Queen Isabella of Spain. But he found his ultimate true happiness with Amerigo Vespucci, "he with the broad shoulders". Marvin leaves his grilfriend behind and marries Trina to his own dread - "I'm about to die". Quite readily after their marriage, Trina notes that he is slipping sway, which is no surprise to us as we have been hearing from the top from Marvin's own lips that something is missing in his life. He has taken on a relationship with Whizzer Brown and finally leaves Trina, who finds herself at the point of a nervous breakdown.
I love Finn's ironical words for Marvin to describe the attraction between Columbus and Vespucci "explorers discover things they already knew."
Finn's book is also laden with emotions from all four characters...some broad and open, others more subtle and contained. There is no finer scene than Marvin and Trina over tea trying to understand why he is leaving her "Pass the sugar, please!". It's a heartbreaking scene without resolution, possessing only an undercurrent of misery. It moved most of the audience to tears.
Finn's music is pleasantly frantic but his lyrics are written like real conversations. This is an operetta not merely with gusto but with lots of meat, food for thought. This requires total engagement from the actors to sing them properly and also from the audience to extrapolate the meaning.
Under O'Connor's swift-paced direction, the four actors all deliver delicious performances. Molinaro makes Marvin a lovable mensch who wins our hearts. Expressive Fox brings so much to Trina with a wide range of emotional insecurity. Madda is terribly funny as the former girlfriend in a drunken stupor at the wedding, and Lane attacks Miss Goldberg with a fury as she sings the hell out of every number. What exquisite harmony the three ladies display!
The set design is simple. The stage is small and the audience is in a dance club with the band behind. We visit various interior locales like Marvin's apartment with the previously mentioned rollaway bed and other props like crate boxes that serve as chairs.
Jake Anthony at piano, Joe Martone on percussion and Ethan Chiampas on bass are great musicians and play the difficult score with a delirious passion. Michael Mullen's costumes are perfectly suited to the time period and the women wear a variety of colorful outfits. Loved Trina's tailored wedding gown and Marvin's tuxedo!.
Let's sum up In Trousers by saying that it is not always easy to follow, but is oh so enjoyably funny and poignant when it comes to the unfolding of gay love. LGBTQ folk deserve to be happy like everyone else. They do not deserve to be bullied and victimized. Let's affirm this show as a fine way to keep homosexual love moving forward. Bravo to Knot Free Productions for bringing the show back to life!
Leave the kiddies 12 and below at home! Sexual terms like screwing and goin' down should stay away from young ears.
(photo credit: Arthur Marroquin)