By Karen Isaacs
Midsummer (a play with songs) is getting a very nice production at TheaterWorks in Hartford through Aug. 21. But I have a problem: Why didn’t I enjoy this show more?
It was not the two person cast; both Rebecca Hart and M. Scott McLean are talented and develop their characters. They not only act but sing and play the guitar. It wasn’t the direction by Tracy Brigden which was fine.
But when I secretly look at my watch several times during a 95+ minute show, it is a clear signal that I am not engrossed.
The show was created by two Scottish artists: Gordon McIntyre, an indie rocker associated with ballboy and playwright David Greig. My knowledge of indie rock is very limited so I had never heard of McIntyre. Greig wrote The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart which was at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas several years ago before making a return engagement to New Haven last Spring. I have to admit, I never saw the charm of that play either.
The play is set in Edinburgh where Helena, a high powered divorce lawyer is stood up, once again, by her married lover. It is Friday of the midsummer weekend marking the longest days of the year. She picks up Bob, a small-time crook who is waiting at the wine bar for his contact to arrive with his next assignment. The pick-up starts amusingly enough with Helena apparently saying to Bob what she may have been thinking and then telling us that wasn’t what she said. This device is used multiple times during the play.
So the boy and girl have met. What happens next? They get drunk, go to bed, have so-so sex and leave each other in the morning. The sex scene is staged inventively even if the joke goes on too long. Helena must attend her sister’s wedding – but her car is in a car park far away and Bob is to sell a “hot” car and deposit the money in the bank by noon.
The story is thus familiar – a totally incompatible couple with little in common but their age meet and somehow we are to believe they stay together. During the course of the weekend, Bob never makes it to the bank with the fifteen thousand pounds, Helena is late for the wedding and Bob suggests they blow all the money. They do – on champagne, food, hotel rooms and assorted other things, picking up a variety of unseen hangers on in the process. By Monday morning, Bob departs with his guitar for Belgium to earn a living “busking” or singing on the streets and Helena decides to accompany him.
I’ve always wondered what separates a “play with music” which is how this is described with a “musical.” My best guess is that in a “play with music” the songs are less integral to the plot and do less to advance plot or characterizations.
While I was not enchanted with this show, I must applaud to the two performers and the dialect coach – Gilllian Lane-Plescia. The two performers maintain a Scottish burr but are still totally understandable. When I was in Edinburgh, I found the accent very difficult to understand.
Both Rebecca Hart and M. Scott McLean do their best to show us the charm of these
characters. Bob is the guy who peaked at 17 and has been wasting his life since – married, divorced, no direction – making his living doing assignments for the leader of a group of crooks. Helena is equally stuck. As a divorce lawyer she must have the seen the worst of marriage; she is stuck in the relationship with a married man and is afraid she is pregnant. Neither of them seem to be going anywhere. Each actor gives us the uncertainties, dissatisfactions and charm of their characters. It is just that I did not care very much about Helena and Bob.
So is the madness of the midsummer weekend that leads them to their reckless acts? In northern countries, the longest days of the year are often said to create a kind of madness and recklessness.
The music is well performed and falls into the folk-rock genre. Parts of this show reminded me of Once.
Midsummer (a play with music) may entrance you. I found it a moderately enjoyable evening, but nothing I would rush to see again.
Midsummer (a play with songs) is at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in downtown Hartford, through Aug. 21. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org.