JUNE 2022 | Volume 216
Rory Comerford, Claire Love Wilson, Rob Thomson. Photo by Sewari Campillo.
This new musical by Claire Love Wilson and Peter Morentz, who also produce the show in association with Touchstone Theatre, and with the frank theatre as a co-presenter, has some very good things going for it.
A few of the songs, composed and arranged by Wilson and Rory Comerford, are hauntingly beautiful, especially one sung in falsetto by musical director/ drummer/ guitarist Sally Zori. In a fascinating technique, parts of the songs sung and the text spoken by Wilson are instantly recorded and played back as echoes, or second voices, so that Wilson sometimes duets with herself. And as she tells her story, and her grandmother Morag’s story, other characters, particularly her grandfather, are sometimes performed by the excellent actor-musician Steve Charles.
But—and I’m speaking here as a straight male, not the ideal audience for this play—the two-hour-long two-act piece would work much better as, say, a thirty-minute song cycle. It’s too long, way too slow, and hangs on a thin thread.
Sam (Wilson) inherits her grandmother Morag’s piano, and with it, a cryptic letter from Scotland containing fragments of Scottish ballads suggesting to Sam mysteries about Morag that need to be unearthed. The rest of the play is essentially Sam’s imaginative re-creation of Morag’s life as a queer woman whose sexuality was repressed and who ended up in a psych ward. These theories, or revelations, revitalize Sam’s own queer identity.
The trouble is that little of this drama is actually fleshed out on stage as Wilson and director Peter Lorenz opt for an agonizingly slow pace and offer little character development. A good chunk of the first act and some of the second is filled with audience participation that does nothing to advance the story or help us understand the protagonists. The lover Sam finds near the end of the show is played as an empty jacket hanging on a hook. The show is performed within the audience, in the round, with muddy acoustics, so when Wilson’s back is turned both lyrics and narrative get lost. In the end I felt I knew little about Morag, less about Sam, and almost nothing about Sam’s lover or, more importantly, the Scottish woman who, in Sam’s mind, was Morag’s.
Despite its interesting sonic technology, the show seems old-fashioned and doesn’t offer much of a payoff. I hope the playwrights go back to work on it so that Morag can come alive more vitally the next time around.
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