Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Inner Voices: Solo Musicals

I'm usually happy to head uptown on the A train in the afterglow of seeing one good musical in an evening. Inner Voices: Solo Musicals, at the Zipper Factory Theater on West 37th through May 30, offered three. It's a novel arrangement to have three one-act musicals, each sung by one person, but this show certainly pulls it off with finesse. Probably the highlight of the evening was hearing Victoria Clark, who won a Tony for her part in The Light in the Piazza, sing a new work by Michael John LaChuisa (Marie Christine, The Wild Party, See What I Wanna See), but the two pieces that follow were also very strong.

In Tres Ninas, which LaChuisa co-wrote with Ellen Fitzhugh, Clark's character is a divorced mother struggling through various forgotten parts of Southern California. On a tattered couch, in a faded nightgown, she recalls deeply touching scenes from her life's interactions and relationships with different people from across the Mexican border: an anonymous migrant family, her nanny-housekeeper and the woman's eventual husband, and a young, attractive day laborer. The work was probably less than 45 minutes, yet managed to so richly depict the interwoven feelings of charity, fear, curiosity, longing, and gratitude that it brought a tear to my eye.

Alice Unwrapped, by Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering, tells the story of an awkward high schooler who takes to wearing a protective outfit that includes an army helmet and Kevlar flak jacket as a way of coping after her reservist father goes missing in combat abroad. The portrait was mostly convincing, providing a refreshing take on the consequences of war and the age-old childhood debate over whether to fit in or stand out. Jennifer Damiano (Spring Awakening) handles the material well, although I thought it got a little repetitive. And the ending didn't feel totally right to me.

Tony nominee Barbara Walsh (Company) plays a jaded New York daughter who struggles to understand her mother's hospital-bed revelations in Michele Lowe and Scott Davenport Richards' A Thousand Words Come to Mind. How could a woman who always seemed to have so little to say when her daughter was around provide the inspiration for one of Philip Roth's greatest books? Or John Updike, for that matter? Or Irving? Or Cheever? The work plays with the idea that brief encounters with a mysterious, if laconic, woman may be all the inspiration necessary for great writers. It also reminds us how whole, undiscovered worlds can exist undetected for years in family members' lives, in books, in our imagination of other people's minds.

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