After dinner, Charles (Bryce Ryness), a Jewish coffee shop employee with a history degree, takes Hope (Pearl Sun), an aspiring actress who is Asian American, back to his small, studio apartment. The young man is a stranger to Los Angeles. His companion has agreed to meet as a favor to a mutual friend. Charles is under the impression it’s a romantic hook up.
Hope is thoughtful, reserved and clearly put off by the environment. She has a wine headache so apparent, it’s palpable. Charles, over eager in an excited puppy sort of way, talks too fast, too much and already imagines he and Hope “sitting in our rocking chairs/watching grandkids playing on the lawn…”=the first song. This is a two character musical, or, perhaps a pop operetta, with musical numbers occupying more stage time than dialogue.
Taken aback, Hope cites the Chinese legend that an invisible red string is tied around one’s ankle at birth, leading away from others to the one. “You have a word in Yiddish,” she begins, “…a love that was meant to be.” “…bashert…” Charles answers wistfully. Two more songs. He’s smitten, she not so much. They agree only on the premise. Hope needs to lie down before driving home. “Great. I mean… not…great. Bad,” stammers Charles. Promising to wake her in an hour, he sits on the floor by the bed mooning.
When our heroine wakes, time speeds up so quickly, the audience suffers vertigo: flash-they’re new lovers, flash-they’re a playful couple, flash-she carries in a few dresses- so as not to have to go home in the morning before work. They sing about love with his hand on her breast and hers on his crotch. You have to be there, it’s actually endearing. Hope moves in with Charles and eventually suggests marriage. He repeatedly changes the subject. Finally, she gives up. “I’m lost without you,” he pleads when she returns for belongings. “Then you need a map, not a relationship, she retorts.” Of course, they wed.
Long Story Short condenses a lifetime of experience (fifty years) into 90 minutes. Before our eyes, the couple moves homes, argues about furniture and money, suffers tragedy and estrangement, tries therapy, goes on, shares joy, changes careers, goes back to school, raises a child, grows apart, is unfaithful, breaks up, comes together, deals with infirmity and illness…It’s dizzying to recollect but, except for the initial onramp, perfectly comprehensible in performance.
Since husband and wife Brendan Milburn & Valerie Vigoda choose not to define their creative roles, I address aspects separately.
Lyrics are dense but often artful- conversationally straightforward, specific, and emotionally perceptive. When utilized, rhymes are never lazy. The plot advances. Historical reminders appear as lines of reprise rather than entire songs. Dialogue (from David Schulner’s original play?) is concise, discerning, character explicit, engaging. The two work well together.
Music to songs, surprising from a pair who often write for Disney, has far less personality. Numbers often made structurally similar by recitative, seem monotone but for brief, melodic choruses. Arrangements are innocuous. Incidental music is more evocative.
Pearl Sun makes Hope both likeable and familiar. The actress appears to think in the moment taking us on her character’s journey. She imbues Hope with a kind of underlying calm, distinguishing her inner gyroscope from that of Charles. While technically mercurial, performance is grounded, feeling, and, from tender to wretched, completely persuasive.
As Charles, Bryce Ryness showcases both comic and dramatic skills. His awkward sweetness is as realistic as the bottled anger resulting from Hope’s unwillingness to talk about collective pain. Clandestinely entering what’s now her apartment Ryness warily waters the plants looking for all the world like a creeping Dick Van Dyke. Sitting on the bed when Hope is ill, he’s perceptibly aged, and, awash with sentiment, creates visceral pathos.
The pair is superbly cast, the piece very entertaining.
Director Kent Nicholson manages to differentiate between episodes moving ever forward with fluency and brio. The single set is predominantly comprised of two doors and a bed, yet these are employed as well as in any farce. Moods turn on a dime, each accompanied by physical embodiment and emotional changes in temperature. Actors are extremely focused and entirely credible. Segue to song is organic. Innumerable costume changes as well as small additions to the set are effected seamlessly.
Kirche Leigh Zeile (Costume Design) does a terrific job reflecting economic changes, job requirements, marital status, morale and character age. She adroitly does this for the most part, adding or subtracting a single element of apparel or accessory at a time.
David L. Arsenault (Set Design) follows suit with transitions indicating variables of intimacy, space, and taste (not very good taste, alas), accomplishing a lot with a little.
Hope’s shopping bags during her emancipated parentheses are a particularly telling delight. The bundle of laundry passing for infants, however, is badly configured.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Prospect Theater Company presents
Long Story Short by Brendan Milburn & Valerie Vigoda
Based on the play Infinite Ache by David Schulner
Directed by Kent Nicholson
Musical Director Vadim Feichtner
With Bryce Ryness, Pearl Sun
59 East 59th Street
Through March 29, 2015