Marissa Mulder likes a challenge. This brave, iconoclastic show shows off nurtured acting ability, onstage presence, the ability to connect, and willingness to expose what she thinks and feels beyond performance. Mulder has unusual musical taste tending toward the contemporary and eclectic. Choices are always intriguing. She’s a good storyteller. The artist attributes much of this to collaboration with Director Sondra Lee whose judgment and skill is artfully reflected.
We’re told this show refers to “Eve of the Bible, before and after the serpent and apple… Scene One: what went wrong…” Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock’s “Dear Friend” sets up a tryst. The song is deftly phrased, rife with excitement and anticipation. “I’ve Been Waiting for Your Phone Call for Eighteen Years” (Judie Cochill), ostensibly Scene Two, describes the aftermath of being stood up: I’m wasting my youth in a telephone booth./…Could it be you’re fickle, or didn’t ya have the nickel? Mulder convinces us she still loves the guy. Few convey innocence as well. Dialogue is seamlessly integrated. Interpretation neither panders nor exploits.
“Artificial Flowers” (Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock) follows with empathetic eyebrows in a point and piano like silent film melodrama. Has our heroine been reduced to this? (I’m really asking.) Then Randy Newman’s “Simon Smith and The Amazing Dancing Bear” during which Mulder mimes the galumphing embrace. Where is our girl? At this point, I’ve lost the trail. Perhaps this is meant to be a collection of women in different affecting situations. Having a thoroughly good time, I decide to let it flow without question.
“You took me for a joke. You took me for a child. You took a hard look at my ass and played golf awhile.” (Alanis Morissette.) Mulder stands, back against a wall, microphone in hand, singing a capella. “Your House” describes a woman scorned secretly spending the afternoon in her ex-lover’s house. “…Would you forgive me love/ If I danced in your shower?” It’s both desperate and dignified. I have an admitted tendency not to relate to songs without graspable melody, yet I’m held fast by the performer’s sincerity.
“There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded,” a quote from Princess Diana, precedes John Kander/Fred Ebb’s “Maybe This Time.” The vocalist sings as if single mindedly willing things to be better will achieve results. She projects heart and guts through a voice that fans out, gritty and wide.
Different sexual innuendo is expressed by “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne) and “Do It Again” (Buddy DeSylva/George Gershwin) with accompanying quotes by Dolly Parton, Mae West, Elaine Stritch, and Marilyn Monroe. Mulder does seduction with utter charm. Vaudeville strippers move and gesture exhibiting well honed panache- though the song could’ve used lower class accents, while the Marilyn Monroe-like standard whispers and sizzles. The performer bends, rising slowly hands embracing her legs; eyes close; head rolls. Instrumental is lush (and lovely).
At this point, the show takes a turn. Mulder shares the fact that she has a dearly loved autistic brother (apparently in the audience.) “…he doesn’t like to touch or look you in the eye…he’s odd, funny, smart, and unpredictable…” Stephen Sondheim’s “Not While I’m Around (Nothings Gonna Harm You)” and “I Remember Sky” are stunning- both heart-wrenching and joyful. Mulder is raw. Our audience erupts. A quote by Carrie Fisher acts as epilogue.
“One Room Mansion” (Nancy Shane from Marcy In The Galaxy) centers on a young woman trying to live her life as an artist in a tiny apartment, preferring …no rug on the floor, frills, no fabrics, no lacquered shelf for my Lalique…to …a glorious, ridiculous house on a lake… Determined to make her way and create art, much like the vocalist, she’s grateful for what she has.
We close with “Roar” (Katy Perry/Bonnie McKee, Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Cirkut): Now I’m floating like a butterfly/Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes/I went from zero, to my own hero…the feeling this artist and others must have when after the work, they’re out in front of us flexing and flying, irrepressibly doing what they must; spot-lit; home.
Brava Marissa. Keep pushing the envelope.
Caveats: An excerpt from “Single Ladies” (Beyonce/Terius Nash/Thaddis Harrell/Chris Stewart) is awkward and too short to achieve impact. While “Je Cherche Un Millionaire” (Nacio Herb Brown) projects just the right flirt, its French is inadequate to justify inclusion.
A call out is due to Abby Bell whose Light Design was particularly symbiotic tonight.
Photos Steve Friedman
Musical Direction/Piano Dennis Buck
The Laurie Beechman Theatre January 27, 2018
Venue Calendar for West Bank Cafe