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A CurtainUp Review


How do you make a love story out of loneliness?
--- Old Wilder
Lacey Kohl & John Cullum
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
Old Wilder as played by the fail safe actor-singer John Cullum sums up the eponymous little musical that recently opened at Playwright Horizon's Peter Sharp Theater that one way to make a love story out of loneliness is to walk through your childhood house and name the one thing that's with you every moment of your life.

Actually Wilder revisits two houses, both in Colorado -- the one where he grew up with the mother he adored and the illiterate father who was unable to hold the family together during the Great Depression; and the whorehouse where he's given an attic room in exchange for washing dishes when his father is jailed for selling one car five times in one day and his mother pretends she's going to work as a maid rather than as a streetwalker.

Not exactly a cheerful scenario for a musical. But as the youg Wilder's loneliness does turn into a love story that stays with him every moment of his life, so Erin Cressida Wilson, Jack Herrick and Mike Craver have fashioned a Western flavored musical memoir out of Wilder's coming of age during his stay in that lonely attic. It's a rather derivative story right to the beautiful, good-hearted whore and a cayenne peppered sex scene fraught with implications of incest. Its score is pleasant and even includes a reprisable song, "Blow Out the Candle", but some of the lyrics, as well as the spoken words, tend towards the bathetic poetry of a hokey greeting card.

So much for the bad news. The good news is that the dialogue and music is well integrated. The stage seems more fully populated than it actually is since two of the actors (Cullum and Lacey Kohl) adeptly fill several parts and the two musicians, Mike Craver and Jack Herrick, are right on stage. Cullum who is the show's memoirist-narrator, plays his younger self's father and several ominous looking "Johns." He seamlessly moves from by-stander to his own story to active participant, and manages to make even some of the cornier poetic language and lyrics sound good. Cullum's younger self also has a fine singer and actor in Jeremiah Miller. Lacey Kohl is also excellent as the mother and the whore in the room below the lonely adolescent's attic.

Lisa Portes directs the coming of age love affair, which may be fact or fantasy, with a sure sense of moving the story present to past and back and makes good use of the window G. W. Mercier has provided for the set which is bare of all furnishings except a big brass bed. No complaints either about Jane Comfort's musical staging and Jane Cox's season and mood appropriate lighting.

In a departure from the customary specificity about who does what in a musical, Wilson, Herrick and Craver are simply listed as joint authors. Neither is there a song list. It seems safe to assume that Wilson concocted the plot, dialogue and some of the lyrics, and her partners, both known for their music for Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, co-authorship of the much produced Oil City Symphony and as part of the Red Clay Ramblers.

As a long-time fan of intimate musicals, I found much to like in this even more than usually intimate show. It's not a cheerful or foot tapping, exit humming experience, and it could use some work on its dialogue and lyrics -- but it has enough going for it to make a visit worthwhile before its brief run comes to an end.

Written by Erin Cressida Wilson, Jack Herrick (also musical director) and Mike Craver
Directed by Lisa Portes
Cast: John Cullum, Lacey Kohl, Jeremiah Miller, Jack Herrick and Mike Craver
Musical Staging: Jane Comfort
Set and Costumes: G.W. Mercier
Lighting Design: Jane Cox
Sound Design: Tom Morse
Running time: 85 minutes, without intermission
Playwrights Horizons, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 W. 42ndSt. 212/ 279-4200
From 10/14/03-11/14/03; opening 10/26.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on Ocotober 28th performance

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