Review: Ordinary Days by Relephant Theatre

Musical theatre often tends to focus on grand subjects: epic lives played out against a backdrop of revolutionary France, a masked, supernatural creature in the Paris Opera, anthropomorphic dancing cats, and so on. In a refreshing change Adam Gwon's one-act musical Ordinary Days forgoes such matters, and instead focuses on the incredible beauty that can be present in the most mundane things.

It is an affectionate, sentimental work whose tender message is borne by an intelligently structured and compellingly nuanced score.

Steven Greenfield and Jennie Neumann. Photo by Jessie van Rijn

The story follows four intersecting lives in New York City: Warren, a young idealist who hands out scraps of art in the street (Steven Greenfield), Deb, a restless grad student completing her thesis on Virginia Woolf (Jennie Neumann), and Jason and Claire, a couple who have just moved in together (Shane Snow and Alison MacDonald).

Gwon's central theme is that we can find beauty and happiness by opening ourselves to others; alluded to through frequent references to Monet's pointillist works. Warren, in particular, is fascinated by how mundane individual dots of colour combine to form something greater and more exquisite than its components.

When we first meet the characters, each carries a special regret, frustration, or doubt that tinges the bubbling music with ennui. It is only when each character puts their trust in another that they are able to let go of these burdens. The paths that lead them to their respective reckonings are filled with surprise, serendipity, squabbles, and, in the case of MacDonald's character, an unforeseen, heartbreaking revelation that prompted tears throughout the room.

The entire story is carried out in song, with a prevailing conversational style that seeks to enhance and underscore ideas and emotions, rather than create hummable tunes for the audience to take home. Sweeping lyrical passages and characters singing in unison are used very sparingly, making such rare moments all the more powerful.

The assembled cast represent some of the finest musical theatre talents in the city, a collection of magnificent voices and gifted actors whose faces will be familiar to any who have been to musicals at The Arts Club, Carousel Theatre, or Pacific Theatre these past several years. It is always a pleasure to experience such artists at work, but Ordinary Days takes the experience to another level through the clever set design of Jessie van Rijn and directorial choices of Julie McIsaac (who pulls double duty as the show's pianist).

Shane Snow address Jennie Neumann over the heads of the audience. Photo by Jessie van Rijn

The pair have set-up Carousel Studio Theatre in an unconventional manner, with audiences members seated in chairs against three of its walls and on stools in the middle of the room. The action occurs around and amongst the seated audience, with minimal set pieces such as a bench, a desk, an empty picture frame, and so on filling space where no audience member sits.

The unique arrangement adds a level of bustle to the production that feels apropos to a story unfolding in the streets of New York. More importantly, it puts the audience close proximity to the performers, enhancing the underlying theme of connection and creating an intimate, rare theatrical experience.

Ordinary Days runs until January 19 at Carousel Theatre.
 
Tickets are only $15 (plus service charges) at BrownPaperTickets.com.
 
 
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