Some times we think our lives are pretty ordinary. Maybe they are but this insightful play reminds us that is no reason not to celebrate them. Ordinary Days playing at the GCTC focuses on 4 people in New York, but it captures the spirit of everyone that feels alone or trapped while surrounded by people. It is minimalist theatre at its best. It needs so little to create atmosphere: some stairs to create levels a few benches, chairs and you have a set. Add some light applied in just the correct way and any landscape you need is created to move a story along. In Ordinary Days at the GCTC, Seth Gerry’s set and lighting design embody this principle of creating simple perfect landscapes out of almost nothing at all.
The essence of this play finds beauty in the struggle of ordinary day to day life. I have often found that good ideas sometimes get lost in big budget messes and the soul of a production gets swallowed by their own effects. Adam Gwon has composed and written lyrics that seamlessly flow out of the characters. The play is a series of musical conversations that create a mosaic. It is like a quilt: a well crafted patchwork of individual artistic triangles that when assembled create a complete picture of beauty that can wrap around you and keep you warm. The fabric in this case is the words and music.
Five distinct voices are all that is needed: 4 actors and Wendy Berkelaar’s piano. The piano is an important voice because it is the sole instrument and it at times echoes or adds it’s own commentary through a run of notes. Berkelaar herself will give a little nod, a look or point out something as the characters walks by her, tucked in the downstage right pocket of the set. Ms Berkelaar also provides the musical direction for the play. This is not a musical that conventionally sets up musical numbers. It is a continuous musical conversation with subtle changes in the middle of a line that drop beautifully like emotional raindrops on an audience.
The acting is magnificent. The play is very well written but without the exquisite timing and emotional depth of the cast the production could easily derail. Zach Counsil as Warren wins the audience immediately with his exuberant optimism. He oozes a puckish charm that makes you laugh even when he is complaining. He spends his life trying to help people through inspirational messages printed on pieces of paper that he hands out to people, hoping that someone will notice. When they don’t he tries again.
Katie Ryerson as Deb provides a brilliantly nuanced performance. She has an ability to perform two sides of an emotion within a nanosecond of each other. At one point she is momentarily cruel to Warren and as soon as her anger escapes her mouth you see her abject shock and remorse at her own insensitivity. In another scene she hilariously pleads in an email for leniency from a professor for submitting an assignment late. Her facial reactions comically mirror every backspace and edit on her laptop.
Gab Desmond is Jason, a sensitive soul desperately in love with Claire. He plays with a relentless yearning of a hopeless romantic. You can hear his heart come through his voice. There is a wonderful scene when he and Claire played by Jennifer Cecil have an argument on the way to a party that very cleverly exposes the couple dynamic in a way that everyone can relate to. For a large part of the play you believe that Claire might just not be into Jason, but her final song is an emotionally gripping, soul exposing ballad performed with an honest abandon that wrenches your heart.
Artistic Director Eric Coates has found a gem of a play that should be a highlight of the season. Meanwhile director Eric Coates has done such a beautiful job of casting that he has made his job easier, notwithstanding the play’s intricate writing. I would like to imagine that the rehearsal was a joy for all, with welcome suggestions and conversations that expanded understanding . If I am wrong about that it would surprise me, because it sure seemed that everyone was loving being in this show as much as the audience enjoyed watching it. I could have said much more about the plot of the play but the joy is in watching the play unwind just like an ordinary day. Sometimes it takes you to an extraordinary place.
On a final note check the website for outreach programs and pay what you desire performances. This play deserves to be seen by everyone who loves fine theatre.
Reviewed by Jim Murchison, photo by Andrew Alexander
Jennifer Cecil: Claire
Zach Counsil: Warren
Gab Desmond: Jason
Katie Ryerson: Deb
Wendy Berkelaar: Music Director and Pianist
Laurie Champagne: Stage Manager
Eric Coates: Director
Pamela Feghali: Assistant Director
Seth Gerry: Set and Lighting Designer
Vanessa Imeson: Hair, Makeup, Costume Designer
Jess Preece: Assistant Stage Manager