by Hugh Hunter
Ordinary Days,” now running at Old Academy Players in East Falls, is a different kind of musical. Adam Gwon composed both book and lyrics for this charming 80-minute drama that was well received in its Off-Broadway run. Tension builds as four young people struggle to find their way in New York City. And through them the show, set in 2008, captures the soul of the big city.
Director Annie Hnatko is her self a professional opera and stage singer, but none of her cast members need operatic voices. Gwon is mainly a word guy. There is little melody, but performers need to sing and act out dialogue, mostly soliloquies, to the accompaniment of a recorded piano tract.
They do so very well; their characters vividly reveal themselves, and Gwon’s “songs” are full of wit, grace and inventive turns. Maya Chester-Ziv plays Warren, a dorky artist’s assistant whose boss is incarcerated. Warren spends her ordinary day babysitting the boss’ cat and walking city streets, handing out the artist’s epigrammatic sayings printed on pieces of colored paper.
In her wanderings, Warren finds a notebook, the unpublished thesis of graduate student Deb, played by Gina Marie Schwoerer. Deb is comically negative about everything (“Don’t Wanna Be Here”) and especially about herself (“Calm”). These two become a quirky couple (“Sort-Of Fairy Tale”).
Claire (Dana Corvino) and Jason (Patrick Sutton, a veteran of musicals) are the other odd couple. Corvino has a good theater voice and gets to sing “I’ll Be There,” one of the few songs with hints of melody, in which Claire unearths buried secrets. Unlike the others, Jason knows what he wants (“The Space Between”). He wants Claire. Badly.
Adam Gwon scorns the extravaganza of musicals (he is a gifted young writer; you wonder where he is going), and Hnatko advances his vision with a nuts and bolts set. You feel yourself pulling for all four of these people, and the ironically anguished “happy ending” feels like just the right touch.
Hnatko (together with producer/husband Steve) has directed some of the more edgy shows at Old Academy. She is attracted to novel theater approaches but not ones so offbeat as to celebrate freakishness. In “Ordinary Days,” she knocks it out of the park once again; the show scores big on several fronts.
Indirectly, it talks about the 9/11 event better than other art works that have miserably exploited the disaster. It also makes you feel the unique ambiance of New York City with its mix of massive population and individual isolation. The couples never meet, but they do cross paths at “Saturday At The Met” and “Rooftop Duet/Falling.” Though they do not know it, this crisscross is consequential. It is the lonely and elusive community cohesion of New York that “Ordinary Days” captures so marvelously.
Old Academy Players is located at 3544 Indian Queen Ln. “Ordinary Days” will run through May 12. Information available at 215-843-1109.