Theatre Review: Ordinary Days at Short North Stage
Tonight, the Short North Stage opens Ordinary Days, a chamber musical written by Adam Gwon. Despite the show’s long history and generally warm reception it received in New York, it may need more time before those accolades come in Columbus.
The show premiered in 2009 at the Roundabout Theatre in New York to mostly positive reviews and has since traveled the world. Short North Stage’s production marks the Midwest premiere. Ordinary Days touches on four struggling younger people in New York City: Deb, a recent transplant trying to get a PhD; Claire and Jason, a couple who finally decide to move in together; and Warren, an aspiring artist. Four lives merge into two stories (Deb and Warren meet over a lost notebook and Claire and Jason detail the insecurities in their lives), with a few moments where all intersect in a ultra-optimistic, unrealistic portrayal of city living.
Adam Gwon, who visits Columbus for the opening, writes a semi-autobiographic piece with some heart. Despite this, the show suffers in development, particularly in the first act where much of the exposition feels quite forced, particularly with Warren, who comes across as over-excited child who drank the kool-aid of “life’s beautiful.” Deb exists as the hyper-tense, coffee snob, standard twenty-something who does not know what to do with life, so she attends grad school. Claire and Jason appear as “the couple;” they must learn the art of living together and cope with those challenges while overcoming their mountains of insecurities as individuals and a couple, though they never speak to each other regarding these issues.
The second act offers a completely different vibe and almost creates a couple poignant moments. Unfortunately, the intermission itself damages the show terribly, as it rips a rare yet brutally awkward and honest moment in two, only to reconvene ten to fifteen minutes later after the audience left the world of the play. This hurts the next two songs, causes some confusion, and ruins any momentum.
However, about an hour into the eighty minute piece, the show’s pace picks up and the audience begins to see the characters as real human beings and less as caricatures of the New York creative archetype. Leslie Goddard’s (Deb) passionate rendition of “Calm” sets this process in motion. Jackie Comisar’s (Claire) heartfelt confession in “I’ll Be Here” almost breaks hearts. As a whole, the four performers create a cohesive ensemble.
The direction seems awkward both technically and directorially. On its final preview, this production endured many technical glitches, particularly with microphones. Hopefully, the team can correct these issues before opening or during the run, but in truth, the moments when the mics did not work portrayed an extra raw—human—element to the the show. With a space as uniquely intimate as the Garden Theater, the microphones seem highly unnecessary and detract from the performance. Lighting also seemed a bit out of sorts as most of the cues lit half of the audience as well as the stage. Patrick Allison’s props illustrate an extensive expertise in New York and prop allocation, especially with many obscure items listed in the script; the set, though, seems like a cluttered and rushed, walk-in closet that only services a quarter of the show’s location needs.
Overall, the show may have needed more technical time to work out a few problems, but hopefully the run fixes these. I have hope. I do not maintain hope for the script itself. Ordinary Days centers on four young white people living in New York trying to figure out where they are going in life and what they are doing. Sound familiar? It is Tick, Tick…Boom! or any Jonathan Larson show for that matter; it is Avenue Q; it is even “How I Met Your Mother.”
I suppose the major difference between Ordinary Days and the aforementioned shows are that Adam Gwon’s script lacks any major or interesting conflict. It reminds me vaguely of that scene in Adaptation where the screenwriter lecturer explodes on Nicholas Cage’s character about writing a script where nothing happens. It seems Gwon wishes to do just that: write an ordinary show about ordinary days where nothing really happens. The final song “Beautiful” sums this up as Warren explains “things are not beautiful all on their own. Beautiful takes a connection…” Unfortunately, Short North Stage’s production of this rushed script glosses over any beautiful potential.
Ordinary Days plays through March 10 at The Green Room at Short North Stage, 1187 North High Street. Fri-Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 3 pm. General Admission is $23.00. More information can be found online at www.shortnorthstage.org.