AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Brendan Milburn & Valerie Vigoda,
based on "An Infinite Ache" by David Schulner
Directed by Tracy Brigden
Presented by TheatreWorks with City Theatre
At the Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto, CA / (650) 903-6000

Reviewed by Judy Richter

TheatreWorks usually is quite successful in presenting new works, one of its hallmarks. However, it misses the mark with "Long Story Short," a new musical by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda based on a play, "An Infinite Ache," by David Schulner. It's billed as a world premiere, playing in Palo Alto immediately after its Pittsburgh opening by co-producer City Theatre. Both venues use the same cast and director, Tracy Brigden.

Milburn and Vigoda wrote the music, lyrics and book. Besides being married to each other, they comprise two-thirds (with drummer Gene Lewin) of GrooveLily, a pop-rock band that created and presented the inventive "Striking 12" at TheatreWorks four years ago. This time, however, they don't perform. Instead, they leave the acting to a two-person cast and a four-member band led by musical director-keyboardist William Liberatore.

"Long Story Short" starts with the meeting of Charles (Ben Evans) and Hope (Pearl Sun) in Los Angeles. He's Jewish, recently arrived from New York. She's Chinese American, a native Los Angelean. They've spent the evening together and have returned to his sparsely furnished studio apartment (set by Neil Patel), where they're not even sure if they've had an actual date. Nevertheless, there's a spark between them, and Ben says how nice it would be if they could dispense with all the preliminaries and just spend their lives together, ending up in their "Rocking Chairs" watching their grandchildren play.

A little woozy from the evening's drinks, Hope wants to take a nap and asks Charles to awaken her in an hour. She closes her eyes. The lights (design by Andrew Ostrowski) flicker, and we realize that several months have passed and that they spend many nights together in this apartment. From then on, the show whisks us through their lives: marriage, children, tragedy, career changes, empty nest, estrangement, reconciliation and finally old age -- with a twist at the end. Only minor costume changes (designed by Robert C.T. Steele) and a few props reflect the changes they undergo.

The music is pleasant enough, though some sameness comes through, and some of the lyrics are clever, as in "Empowered," the Act 2 opening that finds Hope experimenting with middle-aged dating. The sound design by Cliff Caruthers tends toward too loud, distorting the voices and making the lyrics hard to understand.

Even though Evans and Sun are engaging performers who sing well, the show moves so fast that it glosses over important events that call for more in-depth treatment, and it leaves little room for character development. Hence, it's difficult to become emotionally invested in the characters or for the actors to develop the needed chemistry. Moreover, the plot is so episodic that it becomes predictable.

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