By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Adam Gwon’s chamber musical, Ordinary Days, benefits greatly from 11th Hour Theatre Company’s signature charm. Joe Calarco, a director imported for the occasion of this Philadelphia premiere, uses the limited space of the Adrienne’s Skybox to create an intimacy perfectly suited to this sweet and gentle show.
The musical is sung through (the narrative is conveyed entirely through song) and Eric Ebbenga accompanies the four good voices. Gwon’s lyrics are more interesting and entertaining than his melodies, but we get a generous twenty-one numbers; outstanding among them are the lovely “Calm” and “Sort of Fairy Tale.”
The plot of Ordinary Days is the New York story, a story which has been told approximately three million four hundred and eighty-two times in movies and television as well as onstage (everybody wishes they’d written Sondheim’s Company). Four young people meet (or almost meet) cute. We watch them cope with cramped apartments and cab drivers, see them look at paintings in the Met, hear them bicker about wine and order coffee at Starbuck’s (the mocha soy latte blah blah blah routine), and fall in and out of love. Oddly, nobody seems to have a real job that defines them in any way.
The plot follows Jason (the excellent Michael Philip O’Brien) and Claire (Whitney Bashor) who decide to share an apartment and then lose some of their happiness as their love affair cools. Intersecting their story is the friendship between Deb (Alex Keiper), a graduate student whose lost notebook is found by Warren (the irresistible Steve Pacek).
The thread linking their stories is the refrain of “the big picture”—each character’s longings and goals—as well as a variety of paintings at the Met ( I think Gwon also wishes he’d written Sunday in the Park With George)and it’s here you feel the unused potential of the script. Fortune-cookie art leaflets raining down happiness on New York streets seems flimsy and cloying.
Gwon’s version of the New York story is unusual in that the two men are the softies, the romantics, generous spirited and open to experience, while the two women are, in different ways, brittle, grim and graceless, driven to rudeness by the New Yorkiness of it all—too many people, too-tall buildings, too much muchness. The actors’ voices match this division: Pacek and O’Brien have strong, mellow voices, while Bashor’s voice has that nasal shrillness cultivated by Broadway, and Keiper’s voice is more quirky than melodic, as are her songs, most of them funny.
Ordinary Days provides a sentimental, entirely predictable but altogether pleasant evening in the theater.
11th Hour Theatre Co., at the Skybox at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.. Through Dec.18. Tickets $15-30. Information: www.11thhourtheatrecompany.org or 267-987-9865