Review by Samuel L. Leiter
If you’re familiar with Dutch playwright Jan de Hartog’s Tony-winning, two-character play The Fourposter (1951), later adapted into the popular musical, I Do! I Do!, you’ll recall that it depicts thirty-five years (1890-1925) in the life of a married couple, from wedding night to death. Set entirely in the same bedroom, dominated by a fourposter bed, it shows the ups and downs, joys and setbacks, of a typical marriage; there’s the arrival of children, an affair, the decision to move to somewhere smaller, and death’s arrival, providing a humorous and sentimental narrative as we watch the years go by.
In Long Story Short—a new ninety-minute musical by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, based on An Infinite Ache, a play by David Schulner, and presented by the Prospect Theater Company—a somewhat similar premise is used, albeit in an updated format suited to a modern audience. The couple here is ethnically mixed—he’s Jewish, she’s Chinese-Filipino—and fifty years pass before the inevitable occurs. Unlike The Fourposter, the simple white bedroom (designed by David L. Arsenault and lit by Grant W.S. Yeager), built around a specific “large antique bed,” while looking essentially the same throughout, is actually meant to represent several different spaces over the years; the variances are noted by subtle touches, such as opening doors to reveal a closet where a bathroom was, or an entranceway where a closet was.
Of course, while the play includes developments reminiscent of The Fourposter, it’s definitely original, even if—being a depiction of a familiar modern marriage—it quickly falls into a pattern of clichés, with a dash of schmaltz; too often, what’s coming is predictable a mile away. The authors, to their credit, give the proceedings a clever theatrical touch by making the transitions nearly instantaneous, often happening before we realize that time has passed. When someone exits through a door, for example, it’s pretty certain when they reenter seconds later we’ve moved further into the future. The couple, Hope (Pear Sun), who becomes a psychologist, and Charles (Bryce Ryness), an aspiring writer (like The Fourposter’s husband), do little physically to suggest the passage of time, although when old age comes he puts on glasses, and their bodies have lost their youthful spring.
The events that transpire over the couple’s half-century together (and apart) begin with their arrival at the awkwardly overeager Charles’s L.A. apartment after a blind date. After they sing “It Happens in a Moment,” about their mutual traditions’ belief in predestined love (bashert in Yiddish), Hope feels woozy and takes a nap; this is significant, but I won’t reveal why.
Hope and Charles become lovers, leading to the choreographically delightful “Live Like This,” during which they express their sexual familiarity with his hand on her breast and hers on his crotch. Little of what follows this highlight is on the same creative level. In rapid succession we witness a breakup; a make-up; marriage; domestic, job, and money issues; a kid; a tragedy; another kid; therapy; career-track rivalry; marital conflict; their daughter’s milestones, high and low; an affair; racial tension; love’s waning; divorce; dating; love’s rekindling; remarriage; grandchildren; illness; old age; moving to somewhere smaller; the imminence of . . . And then, just as in the movie of The Fourposter (spelled The Four Poster), there’s a trick ending, albeit a different trick.
The charms of Long Story Short come from its very appealing performers, its ethnic references, its sometimes touching, sometimes stinging, and sometimes funny lyrics, and director Kent Nicholson’s imaginative, nicely paced staging. The music, however, while listenable, is largely in the recitative mode, geared more toward supporting the words, and the so-so melodies tend to blend into one another without making much of an impact.
Still, there’s a lot to like, and I suspect the piece will have legs among budget-conscious groups. Long story short, though, there’s not much here you haven’t seen (and possibly gone through) before.
Long Story Short
59E59 Theaters – 59 E. 59 Street, NYC
Through March 29
*Photos: Matthew Murphy