Midsummer (a play with songs): a one night stand to remember
by DREW ROWSOME -Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
The obligatory obnoxious introduction, affirmation and cell phone warning is interrupted by the welcome arrival of the entertainment entering through a door at the side of the stage. Guitars slung over their shoulders, the duo drag in a quartet of travel cases - pink and blue - and proceed to set up. Like the couple in Midsummer (a play with songs), we have just met cute.
The "play with songs" that follows, chronicles the highs and lows of a drunken one night stand. A chance encounter in a bar between a alcoholic lawyer and a petty thief, spins deliriously into outrageous farce and is, for the most part, extremely funny. Highlights include a comically honest sex scene, the male lead's dialogue with his hyperactive penis, a euphoric night on the town, and a disastrous wedding. But, as if the creators were afraid of offending and pushing the comic limits, there are also inexplicable lows - a badly dated parody of Chariots of Fire and Vangelis, a spoof on rom coms (to let this rom com off the hook?), and some superfluous audience participation/pandering - jokes that a self-respecting dinner theatre or improv troupe would dismiss.
The two leads, Brandon McGibbon and Carly Street (Venus in Fur), are complete pros who accentuate the beautifully bonkers material, and apply enough charm to coast past the clunkers without having to wink. The frenetic pace and the seemingly bottomless travel cases from which emerge costumes, props and characters, are almost as helpful as is what is either abundant natural charm or great comedic skill. Or both.
The characters alternate between narration and dialogue and the effect adds enough distance for the audience to feel complicit and free to laugh at the characters instead of with them. The lack of identification works well at times but also spoils the moments where the emotions are meant to be sincere. But as the telegraphed "deep dark secrets" are hardly surprising, it is no great loss. And there is great comedy to be made out of contradictory storytelling.
McGibbon has a real knack of turning a hangdog moroseness into a sly smile so he manages the transformation from loser into lovable loser with ease. He also projects intense energy through a character struggling to be laconic. Street, who both agree is "out of his league," has the tougher role as her character should become less appealing the more we learn about her. But Street is brash, bodacious and a bundle of energy herself, so she never lets us slip through her fingers. They both also don a multitude of supporting characters and each one is etched sharply and with comic grace.
Midsummer (a play with songs) is definitely a "play with songs" instead of a musical. The guitar playing and folky songs are a plot point rather than an emotional outlet. Or perhaps just inserted to let less triathlon-ready performers catch their breath. There was one moment where Street riffed briefly on a high note that made me ache to see the pair of them have an 11 o'clock number but, though the ending is far more emotionally satisfying than it should be, it is achieved theatrically rather than musically.
There are great lines that snap out and the audience, myself included, laughed long and heartily throughout Midsummer (a play with songs). It is perhaps churlish to ask more than to be entertained grandly for 90 minutes, but it did feel as if there was some "deep dark secret" straining to be revealed. As if the creators decided to insert a bit of shtick whenever the comedy cut too close to the bone. There are fragments of a great comedy inside Midsummer (a play with songs), and perhaps if the creators had known that talents as vibrant and insightful as McGibbons and Street were going to tackle it, they might have taken the risk instead of the easy route. Aimed for the audacious instead of being afraid to offend.
But maybe every play doesn't have to be profound in the way that every musical needs a variation on an 11 o'clock number. Or every sexual encounter has to mean something beyond physical gratification. But as instant gratification goes, Midsummer (a play with songs) is a very enjoyable one night stand.
Midsummer (a play with songs) continues until Sun, May 28 at Tarragon Theatre, 30 Bridgman Ave. tarragontheatre.com