Reviews by Robert Viagas
Jilted to Perfection by Debra Cook
Imagine a Wooster Group-style autobiographical monologue—think Spaulding Gray or Eric Bogosian—but presented as a stream-of-consciousness solo musical, and you’d have an idea of Debra Cook’s funny and poignant Jilted to Perfection, getting a showcase as part of the New York New Works Theatre Festival.
Subtitled “A MorMom’s Love,” her journey moves nimbly from her divorce, her struggle to transcend the Mormon world in which she was raised, and an unpromising romance with a Scientologist actor/director who believe she is his soul-mate.
Seated at a keyboard, Cook relates her self-described “squirrely” odyssey through life, swerving from one idealistic disaster to another, always trying to answer the questions, “Is it true that when you’re in love, you see all their brokenness and mess and love them anyway? Love them more?”
And then, out of the blue, in the final section, “The Good Fight,” Cook introduces a surprise guest performer, an angelic blonde waif (McKinslee Mitchell) who joins her on stage for a precociously powerful performance of a song about finding your destiny. The show ends with a surprise finale that I won’t spoil. But it is only one of the many unexpected and wonderful twists in this marvelous mini musical.
Directed by Kathy Morath, Jilted to Perfectionis being presented as part of the New York New Works Theatre Festival at The Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42ndStreet, Manhattan. It was included in an evening of short plays and excerpts that included Glitched, How Alfo Learned to Love, Your Words Are Your Offering,and Flower of Iowa. A second performance is scheduled for Sept. 15.
Common Ground by Granville Burgess
The circumstances surrounding an historic 1863 meeting between President Abraham Lincoln and black former slave Frederick Douglass are the focus of Common Ground, an earnest new musical getting a showcase at New York New Works Theatre Festival.
Douglas, a gifted and outspoken abolitionist speaker who had helped recruit “colored” troops for the Union during the Civil War, was outraged that Lincoln was taking no special action against the Confederacy for torturing, murdering, or re-enslaving those troops when they were captured by the South, as opposed to white Union soldiers who were just incarcerated.
Judging from the seven songs performed in this sampler, composer Stan Wietrzychowski (Street Songs) and lyricist/librettist/director Granville Wyche Burgess have framed the story in the melodramatic style of the mid 19thcentury operettas. Baritone Gary Harger (Lincoln) and tenor Robert Mack (Douglass), serve the score well with their lush, trained voices. Mack is especially moving on “Let Me Begin.” The writers make the most of the fact that Lincoln’s eventual killer, John Wilkes Booth (Benjamin McCormack), was a prominent actor known for his starring performance in Shakespeare’s assassination drama, Julius Caesar.
The show’s atmosphere is serious to the point of stiffness at times, though the game song, “What If?” gives the characters a chance to ask some of the difficult questions of the oft-told story in a light-hearted way.
Common Ground is being presented as part of the New York New Works Theatre Festival at The Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42ndStreet, Manhattan. It was performed as part of an evening of short plays and excerpts that included Life or Not by Cayla Berejikian, Law of the Jungle by Sam Downey, The Kitty Bomb by Kevin Daly, and A Pitch From Satchel Paige by Loren and Jim Keller. A second performance is scheduled for Sept. 13.