Book by Ellie Pyle and Ryan McCurdy; Music and Lyrics by Ryan McCurdy
Review by Susan Hasho . . .
Ryan McCurdy makes a fine entrance bumbling through music stands, guitars, set of drums. No place to hang the jacket, though there is a camera capturing it all. The opening of Whiterock Cliff is antic and funny and by the time actor Ryan settles in, you realize he’s alone in the recording studio preparing to mount a musical, virtually and alone. I was ready for a comedy; I had been set up beautifully.
He stated he was working on a show, his phone the sound effect machine. “My phone has a record of every unfinished song.”
In 2010, Ryan walked the Appalachian Trail and fell. Between 2010 and 2019 he wrote a series of songs called The Trail Songs. He later asked Ellie Pyle to help create a script. And he wanted “to hide in plain sight.” It’s an interesting project to write a show about yourself while trying to hide yourself. But actually that’s a conceit in this show that is one of the most fascinating things about it.
This is a story about two people that agree to meet on The Appalachian Trail while coming from opposite ends. And they would find out what kind of relationship they had by the end. There was to be an “inciting event” that caused them to take this journey, a huge country-wide power outage, but that became too much for the 2020 plot (considering the actual state of the U.S.). They went ahead without an apocalypse. There are things that happen on the trail known to people who hike there like the game of telephone where people pass a sentence to each other and find out at the end what that sentence has turned into.
In this play we hear of a girl who likes to mess this up when she hikes there but finds that screwing up one person wanting to communicate I love you, a declaration of love to a person at the end, is something she doesn’t have the heart to do.
They decide to meet at White Rock Cliff. (“Once Ellie the writer, decided it made no sense for Emma to cross 11 states in the time it took Rhys to cover 3, we decided Emma should set out southbound from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia which, in addition to being home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, is considered the trail’s psychological midpoint though Pine Grove Furnace has a sign claiming the geographic center. Meanwhile Rhys was always going to hike north from Springer Mountain following the route I took in 2010.”)
Ryan McCurdy makes a charming character and entire cast. He has an unpredictable glint in his eye and unswerving commitment to continuing no matter whether he’s the only available musician in the studio or not.
The Appalachian Trail is the thing that connects and gives the story a through line. We discover the origin of the trail and the tale of two lovers, the gentleman on the verge of proposing, hit by lightning. He survived. And our Rhys didn’t find that out until later, after he left that spot. “But what we did hear, word for word, down the trail’s grapevine, days before we read it as the epilogue of half a dozen newspaper articles, was that her last words were “God, baby, look how beautiful it is.” Every hiker got it right, every time. Because there’s nothing more human than getting someone’s last words right if you’re someone who has survived. And no one wants to be the reason that love failed. So why does it?” And the song in the show that says: “We can play telephone up and down this trail…I tried to mouth I needed you at the moment you hung up…”
Ryan has been divorced and Emma’s brother has died but the production doesn’t really connect this properly. By the time you get to the end of this experience, the music doesn’t forward the action and actually gets in the way of being able to take in the story. The process of Rhys’ journey needs to be important and the music more of a sideline. And then Ryan McCurdy’s strength as a storyteller would be a star.
WHITEROCK CLIFF also features the voices of Mick Bleyer, Nick Corley, Brittany Curran, Stephen Lyons, Ellie Pyle, and Katrien Van Riel.
WHITEROCK CLIFF will be performed live at New York’s Funkadelic Studios. Performances of the online run will be Monday through Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern. Shows began Tuesday, March 23 and run through Thursday, April 22, with a special performance on Friday, April 23. Tickets, which are $20, can be purchased HERE.