Wednesday, January 25, 2012

PuSh 2012 Review #5: Do You Want What I Have Got? at Arts Club Revue Stage

I've only ever used Craigslist once: to sell a sofa. But I have friends and family members and colleagues and students who swear by it: to buy or trade all sorts of items; to find apartments or roommates; and, yes, to hook up. The concomitant (maybe consequent?) loss or proof of selfhood within our consumer culture is a major theme in Bill Richardson and Veda Hille's Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, on at the Arts Club Revue Stage until February 11th. Or, as one of their songs puts it, "acquisition and attrition." That could also easily describe my experience last night watching this hilarious and surprisingly moving show. For every moment of laugh-out-loud mirth I greedily lapped up over the course of its intermissionless 90 minutes, I was also emotionally undone by the vulnerability and desperation that clearly underscored so many of the lyrics.

That those lyrics come almost wholly from actual want ads culled by Richardson from the online classifieds site Craigslist is the central conceit of this sung-through musical, first developed as part of Theatre Replacement's 20 Minute Musicals offering at Club PuSh in 2009. With additional lyrics and original music provided by collaborator and co-writer Veda Hille, those ads are here shaped into a rich and deeply affecting portrait of the virtual marketplace, filled with longed for exchanges and missed connections. Indeed, for every song cataloguing something to buy or sell (headless dolls, a collection of stuffed penguins, a dead moose, a bathtub full of noodles) there is another opining a fleeting encounter at a coffee shop, a wordless look exchanged on a street corner, a stolen glance on a bus. The wistful "Did you see me?" becomes the counterpoint to the more assertive hawk of the title refrain.

All of this is perfectly captured by a ridiculously talented cast. J. Cameron Barnett is hilarious and heartbreaking in a number about offloading old dance trophies, which also allows him to show off a mean plié; later he also rocks out, including on the saxophone, in a unique take on male bonding. Dmitry Chepovetsky (the best thing about last year's This, at the Playhouse) brings down the house in a gypsy-inspired tune soliciting the attention of a pretty lady to whom he briefly said "Hi, hi, hi." Bree Greig is a standout from beginning to end, her powerful soprano and expressive face and body able to convey both pure innocence (in that song about the penguins, or the opening number about the guy she smelled on the bus) and down and dirty raunch (as in a Liza Minnelli-like bit about the roommate she doesn't want). And Selina Martin brings layers of hidden depth and subtle pathos to her mostly deadpan delivery in a variety of roles, including a woman mourning the death of her cat and another who edits Craigslist ads for grammar and spelling.

Joining these four on stage are Hille on piano and Barry Mirochnick on percussion (and a variety of other instruments). Hille also harmonizes throughout, and gets her own occasional solos (including a nice homage to Steve Jobs). Even Mirochnick sings an ode to a toupé. As with everything Hille composes and arranges, the score is just the right mix of catchy and quirky, and true to the cantata form is made up of a mix of recitative (as when different ads are sung through verbatim) and more lyrical songs repeated throughout at different intervals. It makes so much sense to apply this traditionally sacred musical form to a topic that is so profane, and I hope a cast album is recorded soon.

A shout out, as well, to director Amiel Gladstone for building a recognizable dramatic arc out of the material, for making great use of the Revue Stage space, and for keeping things moving at breakneck speed. Set designer Ted Roberts works magic with a bunch of strung-up lamps, the analogue technology by which we compose our digital dreams--which lighting designer John Webber in turn shines successive spots on with precise aplomb.

Everything about this show has the makings of a hit, and--despite the various local references in the lyrics (which, of course, can be easily adapted)--one that will definitely travel well. Could an extended run and then a tour follow, maybe even to New York? Although a chamber piece ideally suited to an intimate space like the one in which it is currently playing, I can also see this easily filling, whether in the same or expanded form, a much larger house. Drowsy Chaperone anyone? Get tickets now so that you can say you saw it when.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I also saw this show on the weekend and I completely agree with your review.I have seen New York shows and this one would definitely be a smashing hit there. It's brilliant and the most creative show I've seen in years.