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Review: WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O., A New Opera by UrbanArias

Now on stage at the Keegan Theatre.

The post office becomes a home away from home in UrbanArias' Why I Live at the P.O, based on the short story by Eudora Welty. In this new comedic opera, by composer Stephen Eddins and librettist Michael O'Brien, Sister 1 (Emily Pulley) recounts how her family turned against her, all thanks to her sister, Stella-Rondo. Stella-Rondo (Melissa Wimbish) arrives with her "adopted" child, Shirley T., to celebrate the Fourth of July with Sister 2 (Kynaunnee Richardson), Mama (Alissa Anderson), Papa-Daddy (Eric McKeever), and Uncle Rondo (Ian McFuen). As Stella-Rondo's gaslighting becomes more severe, Sister takes matters in her own hands and makes the P.O. her new home.

Review:  WHY I LIVE AT THE P.O., A New Opera by UrbanArias
Melissa Wimbish as Stella-Rondo and Kynaunnee Richardson as Sister 2 in UrbanArias' Why I Live at the P.O. at the Keegan Theatre. Photo credit: Nick Karlin

The production splits the character of Sister into two different roles: Sister 1 and Sister 2. Pulley's Sister acts as a narrator while Richardson's Sister is her past self. While the concept has potential, its execution creates a distraction from the main storyline. The audience becomes a lost package torn between the past and present Post Mistress. Despite this narrative choice, this opera provides laughs in the form of this eccentric family.

The opera's synopsis frames Why I Live at the P.O. as a family drama, but it is actually a comedy. Depending on your sense of humor, it may or may not be something to write home about. Here are some laugh-out-loud moments to consider. Pulley's red-headed Stella-Rondo walks onto the stage, her comedic timing and interactions with Shirley T., who is a doll instead of a child actor, puts the audience in stitches. McEuen's Uncle Rondo, the "certified pharmacist," going through a high while chatting with McKeever's oblivious Papa-Daddy is perhaps one of the funnier scenes. Although, let's not forget Richardson's Sister, whose quick-witted reactions to Stella-Rondo are hilarious, and yet, quirky; for instance, tomato canning in the kitchen turns into a playful way to vent her frustrations. From a song about Shirley T. to one about Pappa-Daddy's beard, the music fits in with the opera's comedic elements. The singers carry tunes with operatic gusto, especially when it comes to duets.

Why I Live at the P.O. is set during the Fourth of July. However, it doesn't feel like "America's Birthday." The only hints of the holiday are a few American flags and patriotic drinking glasses. There isn't much Southern charm either, which is unfortunate as the family lives in Mississippi. The production's design creates an uncertainty in the opera's time period, which feels like the 50's (or even early 60's) rather than the 40's. This prevents the audience from remaining grounded in the story.

A 70-minute opera is a challenge, especially as it is based on source material that is also short. UrbanArias' Why I Live at the P.O. isn't the full package, but it delivers with its lively cast.

Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission

UrbanArias' Why I Live at the P.O., directed by Dennis Whitehead Darling and conducted by Robert Wood, runs from April 30 through May 7, 2022 at the Keegan Theatre in Washington D.C. Tickets can be purchased here.

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