Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Ordinary Days provides, according to Toby Zinman, a sentimental, entirely predictable but altogether pleasant evening in the theater.



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


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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