Window Treatment is by Deborah Zoe Laufer and Daniel Green; Directed by Portia Krieger
The Costume is by Daniel Zaitchik; Directed by Noah Himmelstein
Scaffolding is by Jeff Blumenkrantz; Directed by Victoria Clark
Presented by Premieres
Off Broadway, Short Musicals
Runs through 11.17.18
TBG Mainstage Theatre, 312 West 36th Street
by Dan Rubins on 11.7.18
Farah Alvin in Window Treatment. Photo by Russ Rowland.
BOTTOM LINE: An evening of new one-act, one-actor musical works hits a home run with Window Treatment, a delicious piece about a woman lovingly stalking her neighbor.
When it comes to creating musical theatre, is it confining or freeing to follow the rules? That’s a question worth considering at the sixth iteration of Inner Voices, produced by Paulette Haupt’s Premieres, and featuring three one-act, sung-through musical monologues. Since the librettists and composers have been commissioned, form comes first: that is, while the creators could choose their subject matter, they write within the fairly unusual fixed structure of a thirty-minute, one-voice show with uninterrupted music (these are essentially one-act operas written for musical theatre singers). All three works light up with the abundant talents of the performers (one of whom is Broadway luminary Rebecca Luker), but only one story feels fully at home within these structural parameters.
That one is Window Treatment, a firecracker of a musical from composer Daniel Green and librettist Deborah Zoe Laufer, which zooms into one pivotal evening in the life of a lonely doctor (the superb Farah Alvin). Our heroine has built her life around stalking the man who lives across the street in Apartment 7C (with her binoculars, she can even see through the window what brand of dill he’s dipping his crackers in), and, when we meet her, she’s in a panic because this man she’s never met has not arrived home at the usual time.
Green and Laufer expertly fill out their half-hour with wide variation in music and characterization. What helps to keep things interesting is that their protagonist can turn on a dime from noisy hysteria to steely resolve to overdramatic desolation to anticipatory elation. (The simple orchestration also gets brilliant mileage out of the combo of piano and vibraphone.) Green’s score finds sizzling synergy with Laufer’s sharp text, sliding smoothly from an eccentric contemporary musical theatre sound into a bona fide habañera as the narrator recounts her near-misses at meeting the object of her affection in person. The piece also seems custom-made for Alvin, a vocal chameleon and comic mastermind, who manages to register simultaneously as totally deranged and touchingly sympathetic. As crazy as this woman’s imaginings may be, Window Treatment takes full advantage of its monologue form—she might not actually choose to share these thoughts aloud with other people, so we’re just privileged to the endearingly zany collection of fantasies that fill up our heroine’s head when she’s home alone.
The Costume, a gentle offering from composer-librettist Daniel Zaitchik, centers around Leo (the expressive, angel-voiced Finn Douglas), a 10-year-old boy charged by his next-door neighbor with nursing a wounded pigeon back to health. Despite the sweet performance from Douglas, and a couple well-built twists involving Leo’s absent father and ailing mother, Zaitchik runs out of things for Leo to say and do while waiting through the night for the pigeon to heal. An over-reliance on spoken narration of the events leading up to this scene also lessen the piece’s immediacy; unlike Window Treatment, there’s very little sense of being inside this character’s mind.
The final musical monologue of the evening is also the most star-studded. Besides Luker’s warm, impassioned performance, Scaffolding also has direction by Victoria Clark (the Tony-winning actor of The Light in the Piazza) and a score and text by Jeff Blumenkrantz, the actor-composer probably best known for “I Won’t Mind,” a lovely song about maternal longing performed frequently by Audra McDonald. Scaffolding also deals with maternal longing: Luker plays a mother hiding her son’s Asperger’s diagnosis from him for fear of hampering his chances of getting into MIT. Blumenkrantz’s music is the most genially melodic of the the evening’s three works, even if some of his lyrics draw too much attention to themselves with their tightly-packed rhymes that feel too neat for this anxious character and the monologue form.
It’s also a little disappointing that Scaffolding offers yet another story about a person on the autism spectrum that’s entirely from someone else’s point of view. The fiercest musical moments arrive when the narrator repeats the words her son said to her upon discovering his diagnosis, and this story might be far better served with a two-person cast that would allow the son’s sense of anger, betrayal, and clarity to come from his own voice. Luckily, Luker remains a hugely appealing and wise actor who brings this character to rich-voiced life despite the work’s shortcomings.
As a complete evening, Inner Voices provides a fascinating look at how very different stories can be told within the same constraints. It’s also a delightful welcome party for a sparkly new work in Laufer and Green’s Window Treatment, a work which deserves to be seen far beyond this run.
(Inner Voices plays at TBG Mainstage Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, through November 17, 2018. The running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with two intermissions. Performances are Mondays through Fridays at 8 and Saturdays at 3 and 8. Tickets are $49 and are available at premieresnyc.org or by calling 866-811-4111. For more information visit premieresnyc.org.)
Inner Voices consists of Window Treatment, by Deborah Zoe Laufer and Daniel Green, directed by Portia Krieger; The Costume, by Daniel Zaitchik, directed by Noah Himmelstein; and Scaffolding, by Jeff Blumenkrantz, directed by Victoria Clark. Music Direction by Paul Masse (Window Treatment), Deborah Abramson (The Costume) and Benji Goldsmith (Scaffolding). Set Design by Reid Thompson. Lighting Design by Aaron Spivey. Sound Design by Sean Hagerty. Costume Design by Brooke Cohen Brown. Production Stage Manager is Donald William Myers.
The cast is Farah Alvin (Window Treatment), Finn Douglas (The Costume), and Rebecca Luker (Scaffolding).