Okay, Hope isn’t quite snockered to the gills. She’s sober enough to recognize a tight spot. In this case, literally: the cramped studio apartment of a man far too young for her tastes. Charles is wide-eyed and gaga and young. Practically a kid, and he’s going on and on about how the bed, the room’s sole furnishing, is an heirloom, on which his whole family was conceived. And he’s almost — nope, now he is — head over heels over her and vows to conceive their children on the two-poster.
Hope wants out. She swore off neophyte lovers. Maybe because he is one, Charles wants the relationship to fast-forward 50 years — past early-dating awkwardness and all that marriage stuff — to when he and Hope, in rocking chairs, watch grandchildren frolic in the yard. Charles admits that, except what he’s learned from movies, he knows zip about love. But movies only hit the hot spots, beginnings and endings, not how love works day to day.
So Charles envisions a rough-draft marriage: they wed, make all the mistakes, get a divorce — “get all that out of the way.” Then they fan the embers, remarry, and have a lasting bond, the kind of steady, working-through, adult love, in fact, that would horrify screenwriters.
But Charles, you want to tell him: there are bridges, and water flowing underneath, and sometimes more water goes under a bridge than… But Charles wouldn’t heed you. Nor does Long Story Short, a musical about 50 years in the off-and-on love between Hope and Charles.
Long Story recalls Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s I Do! I Do! a lot (even down to the bed centerstage). It also borrows from Craig Lucas’s magic realism: slights of hand and time that bend reality like a Slinky toy. The musical makes some surprising changes, including a vaguely described tragedy, but for anyone familiar with its antecedents, it has a riding-on-coattails quality.
That said, it’s a charmer. At almost no point are Hope and Charles on the same page. They are an interracial couple: he’s Jewish; she has Chinese-Filipino ancestry (lucky for them they don’t meet that Louisiana justice of the peace who last week wouldn’t marry a black man and white woman “for the good of their children”). One is always running full speed while the other’s gearing down. Some of the liveliest songs, such as “Unpacking the Suitcase” and “We Should Get Married,” play on their conflicting expectations. It’s often a wonder that they ever advance.
Melody Butiu and Robert Brewer are well cast for roles that require strong singing and acting skills. The performers blend quite well, especially when Hope and Charles bicker. And they meld with Mark Danisovszky’s five-piece band and its intriguing makeup: piano, percussion, violin, bass, and cello (the latter, played by Diana Elledge, casts a haunting, elegiac patina over Victoria Petrovich’s one-room set, with walls that double as the sky).
Long Story Short moves at top speed (a daughter is born; not long after, she’s enrolling at UCLA). But the pace also works against it, since every scene unfolds the same way: time-reset, staccato, impressionistic sentences, new dilemma, song. The sameness takes a here-we-go-again toll in the 138-minute one-act. The lively, thought-provoking musical might improve if the authors shortened Long Story Short by two scenes.
A pair of suggestions for Mo`olelo Performing Arts’ production of 9 Parts of Desire: (1) slow down the deliveries just a tad (the Iraqi accents are convincing but at times blur the sense); (2) if at all possible, extend the run of this tragic, radiant, spell-weaving show.
What if a diverse group of Iraqi women received more air time than a five-second CNN cameo? How would they account for the devastation? What would they assert? If you think you have a snappy answer, you’re too sound-bitten from watching CNN.
“This war is against all my beliefs,” says the exiled Huda, “and yet I wanted it.”
“Iraqis know not to open their mouths,” says the state-supported artist Layal, “not even for the dentist.”
“Now they steal women for money or to sell them,” says a sheltered teenager (whose acute ear can distinguish an M16 from an AK from an RPG). “I try to tell Momma she won’t get stolen. Her hair is not that nice.”
For a decade, Heather Raffo conducted interviews and then arranged them into monologues. In 9 Parts, the women don’t know each other — and might not get along if they did. Their opinions are that divergent. Raffo has made each character fully detailed and, even more striking, the voices don’t cancel each other.
Raffo originally performed the piece by herself. Mo`olelo director Janet Hayatshahi has three actors play nine parts. Lisel Gorell-Getz (especially as Layal, the artist who has been “raped many times”), Frances Anita Rivera (whose greathearted Amal is a heartbreaker), and Dré Slaman (as fire-from-the-hip Huda) make indelible impressions on David F. Weiner’s handsome set, through which winds the Tigris, a river of gleaming bowls.
Long Story Short by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda, based on the play by David Schulner
San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown
Directed by Kent Nicholson; cast: Melody Butiu, Robert Brewer; scenic design, Victoria Petrovich; costumes, Kate Stallons; lighting, M. Scott Grabau; sound, Chris Luessmann
Playing through November 1; Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Matinee Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-544-1000.
9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo
Mo`olelo Performing Arts Company, Tenth Avenue Theatre, 930 Tenth Avenue, downtown
Directed by Janet Hayatshahi; cast: Dré Slaman, Lisel Gorell-Getz, Frances Anita Rivera; scenic design, David F. Weiner; costumes, Charlotte Devaux; lighting, Jason Bieber; sound, Paul Peterson
Playing through November 1; Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Matinee Sunday at 2:00 p.m. 619-342-7395.