review: in transit

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In Transit

Book, Music, and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan, Sara Wordsworth
Original Concept created along with Gergory T. Christopher & Karla Lant
Directed by Joe Calarco
Musical Direction by Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Featuring Steve French, Celisse Henderson, Hannah Laird, Cheney Snow, Graham Stevens, Denise Summerford, Tommar Wilson
Primary Stages, 59E59 Theatres, 59 E 59th Street
production web site:
http://primarystages.org/intransit

September 21, 2010 – October 30, 2010

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
October 30, 2010

The young, energetic, wise, observant, funny, smart, apparently group-created (and generously credited) In Transit provides a lovely look at the world of New York City’s 8 million people and how they get around. Those who commute an average of an hour each way each day to whatever they’re doing, many on public transit, many underground. The world of this play focuses exclusively on that life “in transit” that Comden and Green and Bernstein wrote about in On The Town (“the people ride in a hole in the ground”) and Sondheim earnestly and bittersweetly wrote about in Company (“another hundred people just got off of the train”). This writing team builds on the energy of the city itself to focus on the trains as concrete fact and metaphor for the time between end points. Are we in transit, in pause, enduring the passage? Are we looking our life and our choices and our daily passages on the street, on trains, with the people we meet dead in the eye? Are we feeling our lives?

Boxman (Chesney Snow) is our host/stage manager/everyman/citizen/beatbox street musician in the subway world created at 59E59 Theatres. The set created by Anna Louizos a smaller version of the current set of Saturday Night Live, with no on-set band — just a subway station that morphs, with lighting (designed by Jeff Croiter) and a few set pieces, into offices or bars. The substantive frame is the station and all else is malleable. Into this world come Jane (Denise Summerford), aspiring singer actor and temp worker, closeted Trent (Tommar Wilson) who struggles to balance his world as a gay man with his conservative small town origins and a mama he suspects just won’t understand; Ali (Hannah Laird) sings of roommates and old loves and moving on in all senses of the phrase in “The Moving Song”; laid off business guy Nate (Graham Stevens) maneuvers through keeping up appearances and finding his own way; several characters played by Celisse Henderson establish boundaries and move characters along to major decisions about their lives — Trents’s Momma, the station Booth Lady, and Jane’s boss Ms. Williams. There are additional characters, perhaps a few too many but the point is clear: a life lived in transit following an old or unexamined dream results in stolid endurance of each day. Our a capella musical urban adventure moves from “Not There Yet” (the show opener) to “Getting There,” illustrating the recognition of the exquisite joy of the journey.

My “Judy Garland set list test” (or “could Judy have made something of the tune” test) was passed for one tune — the painfully beautiful ballad “Choosing Not to Know” that comes near the end of the show. Trent, our city resident from a small town in Texas is hosting his Momma for the first time. Simple, loving, church-going, homosexuality-is-sin believing Momma comes to the Big City. Trent circles around her linguistically, melodically, attempting to come out to her, and finally accepts that in her world view she loves him, but cannot integrate his life. She does not allow him to talk about it. She is “Choosing Not to Know.” And yes this tune should have a life beyond this little book show.

Here’s hoping for a next production of this gem of a show. And soon.

© Martha Wade Steketee (November 1, 2010)

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