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BWW Review: THE MAGI Brings Love and Lyrics to The Hub Theatre

BWW Review: THE MAGI Brings Love and Lyrics to The Hub Theatre

The Hub Theatre's THE MAGI is in many ways made for the winter holidays: it is unabashedly about love and sacrifice. Kelsey Mesa directs this two-person acoustic musical featuring impressive original songs by Eli Pafumi.

Together, Nixon (Rex Daugherty) and Judevine (Daven Ralston) are the Magi, a touring band and committed couple who have been together on the road for eight years. But the cracks that have developed in their complex relationship are apparent in the very first song of their set at O'Henry's in Fairfax, VA. It's that time of year when the world falls in love, but Nix and Jude are falling out - awkwardly and amusingly - in front of an audience.

Written by the Hub's artistic director Helen Murray Pafumi, the story can be boiled down to one simple conflict. Nix and Jude are truly in love, and they've been compromising and dealing with each other's idiosyncrasies for years, but now they're facing lifestyle choices that threaten their relationship. Down-to-earth Nix, who loves being in love, is ready to settle down. He wants a house, maybe even kids. Free-spirited Jude... doesn't. She can't imagine being confined that way, and a baby is out of the question. This is real enough. Asking the audience to believe that this is a concert and that this relationship is coming apart at the seams right in front of us works well, too. Many other shows (such as THE LION and HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH) have successfully used the concert/heart-to-heart conceit. The problem is when Nix and Jude's stories of life on the road become a little too far-fetched (wild deer wandering into the tour van and calmly hanging out?), and when their core conflict is deftly resolved, like a brown paper package tied up with string. This might be more than enough to satisfy romantic comedy fans, but I found it nearly impossible to fully suspend disbelief.

Daugherty plays Nix as exactly the type of cute hipster that Jude (jokingly) says he's not, and Ralston is biting and energetic as Jude. They're both multi-instrumentalists, even breaking out a kazoo at one point. Their not-so-subtle digs at each other are sometimes funny and other times cloyingly precious. The most insightful and genuinely humorous moments come when they individually step offstage every so often and address the audience, philosophizing about the highs and lows of love and relationships. Lighting designer Johnathan Alexander ensures house lights are low and the actors are perfectly spotlighted in these moments of truth.

Creative scenic design (Jonathan Dahm Robertson) transforms the black box theatre into the cute but divey O'Henry's. The walls are covered in chalk advertising drink specials and trivia and karaoke nights, and a few tables for two are set up beside the stage. Various sizes of white string lights adorn the homemade stage, and the effect is adorable, straight from a Pinterest board.

Perhaps the brightest element of this production is the folk-pop music and lyrics written by Helen Murray Pafumi's son Eli Pafumi, a seventeen-year-old wonder who also opened for the Magi the night I saw the play. (The Hub has a rotating lineup of opening artists which make the dive bar concert setting feel more authentic.) Eli charmed the crowd with a couple of originals and a soulful cover of Chris Stapleton's "Tennessee Whiskey" before leaving the stage to the Magi.

The fictional band is no real match for the solo Eli, however. His songs are skillfully composed with touches of sweetness and humor, but Daugherty and Ralston never quite fall into the sweet spot of the harmonies written for them. Their counterpoint, always a bit off, could be attributed to the shaky nature of their relationship - they're so close but can't seem to lock in - but it's a little frustrating.

THE MAGI is the kind of play you want to love. It's the holiday season, and a heartwarming, quirky tale of love and redemption complete with acoustic guitars and twinkle lights seems like just the ticket, but it doesn't quite live up to its full potential.

Running time: approximately 1 hour 30 minutes without an intermission.

The Hub Theatre's THE MAGI runs through December 18th, 2016, at the John Swayze Theatre at the New School of Northern Virginia, 9431 Silver King Ct., Fairfax, VA 22031. Tickets can be purchased at thehubtheatre.org.

Photo: Daven Ralston as Judevine and Rex Daugherty as Nixon in THE MAGI; photo by DJ Corey Photography, courtesy of The Hub Theatre.

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From This Author Barbara Johnson

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