BWW Review: IF SAND WERE STONE Centers on Alzheimer's Disease
At the 2018 New York Musical Festival, the show IF SAND WERE STONE tackled the difficult subject of early onset Alzheimer's Disease. With music by Cassie Willson, and book and lyrics by Carly Brooke Feinman, the show was quite stylized and sometimes confusing.
In the story, Billie, a poet and professor, is rapidly succumbing to Alzheimer's. She is married to Marvin, also a professor, and they have a college-aged daughter named Margaux. To complicate matters, Marvin is having an affair with Billie's assistant, Tracy.
Four actors played "spirits," providing harmonies and often repeating Billie's actions and lines. I suppose they served as a representation of the fragmentation of Billie's mind, but their presence was intermittently successful and distracting. Their most successful moments involved mimicking Billie's actions as she placed clothes in the washer and took them out again over and over without ever actually washing the clothes. In another scene, they mimicked her as she watered and rewatered the plants, even pouring coffee on a plant in one instance. Seeing these heartbreaking actions performed by five people made the loss of Billie's faculties even more impactful.
In another scene, however, the spirits played what looked like a game of musical chairs on the sides of the stage while a scene played out on center stage. I didn't understand the point of this and found that their movements only pulled my attention from the center.
The projections used at the back of the stage were mostly successful, and the show is quite moving overall. Unfortunately, the sum of its parts don't quite work. One of the biggest issues is that the show focuses too much on the affair between Marvin and Tracy. In a 90-minute musical, this is too peripheral a story that takes away from the central theme of Billie's loss of self and how that impacts her husband and daughter.
The lyrics were quite poetic at times and banal at other times. The music was respectable, but no songs stood out. All of the actors sang very well and did a good job with the material they were given--- Trish Lindström as Billie, Jonathan Christopher as Marvin, Alexis Floyd as Margaux, Tracy McDowell as Tracy, and the four spirits: Tabatha Gayle, Jhardon DiShon Milton, Jennifer Reed, and Mari Uchida. The show was directed by Tyler Thomas.
I want to make special note, however, of Jonathan Christopher's work in a scene where his wife comes back for a few moments and recognizes him. This was the moment that brought me to tears, and that was largely due to Christopher.
There's a lot to like about IF SAND WERE STONE, but I think it needs to be worked and reworked before it's ready for a full stage production.