“Ordinary Days,” an entertaining chamber musical, by Adam Gwon is currently having its West Coast premiere at South Coast Repertory.
Off its well-received opening in New York, the play utilizes music and lyrics instead of dialogue as it follows four bright young people trying to find their way in the Big Apple.
At the beginning we are introduced to each. There is Warren a young artist desperately seeking notice. Meanwhile, he works passing out handbills for an established artist.
In the role, Nick Gabriel is charming. None of the passers-by will take a flyer, but he stays determinedly optimistic. On his route, he collects found-objects to use making his art. He comes across a notebook and reads that it belongs to a Deb.
Deb is an over-achieving student from the hinterlands. She is the type who keeps getting degrees because she can’t get a job. Deborah S. Craig plays her with a nervous insecurity. She is so upset we want to reach out and re-assure her.
Her lost notebook is invaluable, containing her thesis on the author Virginia Woolf. In Deb’s funniest song, “Dear Professor Thompson,” she wracks her brain trying to think of an excuse for failing to hand in her work. Everyone has been there before.
We meet Jason while he is in the process of moving in with his girlfriend, Claire. All in the cast have fine voices, but David Burnbaum as Jason excels. He is comically impressive as he operatically agonizes over the problem of trying to fit in his things in the very small apartment.
Girlfriend Claire is definitely a Type A personality. As we first see her, she has her own quandary, one with which we can identify. She has to call friends, last minute, when she has to cancel an apartment-warming party. It seems, Jason’s taking too long getting his stuff together, and the place won’t be ready.
As the play evolves, the Metropolitan Museum of Art becomes an important setting. Warren decides to meet Deb to return her notebook. There is some confusion about the spot selected, and they get lost. One thinks it’s the Monet room; the other, the Manet.
Scenic designer Fred Kinney cleverly uses projections of famous art for the background. The pictures continually change as the action moves from room to room. In fact, the whole set is excellent, consisting of three levels – street, apartments and tops of buildings.
The two meeting brings on the charming “Sort-Of Fairy Tale” number. Lonely Warren wants this rendevous to be like a movie scene in which they are both drawn to each other at first sight. Single-minded Deb, though, wants to get back to her college assignment. But, she soon realizes Warren is gay and agrees to go for a quick coffee at Starbuck’s, and they do become friends.
Although the four never meet, they do brush by each other in the museum. Jason and Claire are also there for an outing. At this point it can be seen that their relationship has some problems. Differences come out as they find they don’t agree on a lot of things. For one, they differ about painters. As well, they get in a fight about wines. She wants white for fish; he insists on red. Before leaving the met, they do come together vocally on “Saturday at the Met,” sung as a quartet with pairs on separate levels.
Regarding the score, the audience doesn’t leave humming the melodies, but Gwon’s lyrics are very clever. As well, Dennis Castellano gives staunch support on the piano.
Under Ethan McSweeny’s capable direction, the proceedings move forward at a sprightly pace. At the end, we find out whether Jason and Claire can surmount their differences and stay together. And we see how the suppressed Warren breaks out toward artistic success. In the final scene the dull handbills he distributes surprisingly become a colorful wonderment.
“Ordinary Days” plays through Jan. 24 on SCR’s Julianne Argyros Stage.