Friday, August 17, 2012

From the Fringe - Review of "Inexperienced Love"

Inexperienced Love

I had my first taste of the 16th annual New York International Fringe Festival last evening.  I saw two shows, and have already committed to return to see two more shows next weekend.  If you are not familiar with the Fringe, it may surprise you to learn that previous Fringe festivals have helped to launch shows like Avenue Q and Urinetown onto Broadway.  The first show I saw last night was a show that had its embryonic beginnings in Pittsburgh in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama.  "Inexperienced Love" has the fingerprints of the very talented Jacob Tischler all over it; he serves as composer, lyricist, book writer and lead actor for the musical.

"The show is an original musical focused on uncovering the true definition of love. Despite it’s familiar theme, each of the three story lines is unique. The music stays true to the voice of each narrative, leap-frogging from sweeping duets to spitfire comedy to sex-driven gospel. Two lovers confront each other, two introverted high school students lose themselves to their hormones, and one audience member becomes a prospective fiance. 

This show is backed by team almost completely comprised of Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama students. The piece was conceived in 2010 during an annual event called Playground, a festival of created work fostered by the CMU Drama Program. Since then, it has been produced as a fundraiser event in Vermont, and returned to CMU by popular demand."

So, the question is: As an audience member seeing this show for the first time, what did I experience?  In short,, "I experienced love." I love this show!  How do I love this show?  Let me count the ways:

  1. I love the concept of three disparate young couples wrestling with a bouillabaisse of emotions, conflicts, insecurities, hopes, dashed dreams, awkward moments, raging hormones and ham-fisted gropings for connection - for love and for self-awareness.
  2. I love the energy and vulnerability of  the cast.  It is a strong ensemble, and their solos, duets, trios and full cast numbers advance the telling of the individual and collective stories.  Each actor is worthy of mention.
    1. Tischler as Jake is the heart of the show.  Jake opens the book of the show by literally opening the dictionary to define "love."  And we are off and running.  His look, his affect, his singing and speaking voice, his physical presence all are perfect for this character who is in search of himself and of the chance to regain his lost Penny.
    2. Casey Layne Anderson as Penny is a revelation.  Her over-the-top portrayal of a penny that has been taken out of circulation reminded me very much of one of the pretzel-wielding German bar maids  in the iconic number "Springtime for Hitler and Germany" in "The Producers."
    3. Jon Jorgenson as Frank is too focused on his career ambitions to give Emma the kind of attention she craves.  Jorgenson has a beautiful singing voice and a tall and imposing physical presence.  My one quibble with him is that on a couple of occasions during the show, the actor seemed to be standing in a set pose downstage left as if he were concertizing in a recital as Jon rather than telling a story of a real situation as Frank.
    4. Olive Harris as Emma establishes a strong sense of character who is often frustrated at Frank's placing her needs second or third to his duty to take care of Jake, who is reeling from Penny's rejection of him, or to Frank's propensity to give into the impulse: "It seemed like the right thing to do"!
    5. Emily Koch as Ruthie is the nerdy fish out of water who eventually takes the bull by the horns and tracks down Jameson when he is too shy and scared to show up for a first date they had set.  A highlight of her performance is the trio "I Want a Man," with Penny and Emma in which she reveals that Jameson's sexual hang-ups have prompted her to try out lesbianism for size.
    6. Trevor McQueen as Jameson is wonderful.  This former childhood Broadway actor - "Annie Get Your Gun" with Bernadette Peters - almost steals the show as Jameson.   He soliloquizes about his cornucopia of phobias and self-doubts.  His hair alone - and Ruthie's blunt response to its absurdity - is worth the price of admission.  Their duet, "Not Pretty," is heart-rending.
  3. I love the promise of Tischler as a Broadway composer and lyricist.   I see the seeds of a young Sondheim - in the music, the lyrics - especially in the patter songs - and in the slightly cynical view of relationships that has become a hallmark of Sondheim shows.  Yet Tischler, perhaps because of youth and still smoldering optimism, spreads his schmear of cynicism on this bagel of a show with a light touch and with a wink and a smile, instead of the sneer that we often get from later stage Sondheim with his litany of dark and dysfunctional relationships in shows like "Company," "Marry Me a Little," "Sweeney Todd," "Merrily We Roll Along," and "Sunday in the Park with George."
  4. I love the simple and minimalist set of dozens of heart-shaped mylar balloons and a few movable chairs. The balloons are emblematic of the over-inflated expectations of the six characters that love would somehow be easy to find and to sustain.  The fact that these static objects are eventually employed as weapons in  a lover's tiff is brilliant staging.  The way in which the balloons subtly swayed back and forth as the ambient air circulated unpredictably through the performance space serves as a nice reminder of the way in which the six characters' hearts are often tugged by invisible currents of unpredictable emotions and irrational actions.
  5. I love Tischler's use of foreshadowing.  His opening reading from the dictionary seems effective, but a bit pedantic in the moment, but takes on a whole new level of meaning when the audience learns what Penny said to him in their moment of break-up when he admitted: "I don't know what love is!" -a distinctly anti-Forrest Gump moment.
  6. I love the author's deep understanding of adolescent angst and endemic "emotional acne."  Each character seems drawn from life, and each gesture, movement, argument, quip, retort and aside adds to the sense of believability of them as real people.
  7. I love the moments when I, along with many other audience members, erupted in belly laughs at the silliness or poignancy of the characters' actions and inner thoughts.
You have two more opportunities to see this show at the Fringe - Saturday, 8/18 and Wednesday,  8/22.  Go on-line now and get your tickets.  

You may see a future Broadway actor or composer or producer on stage at the Players' Theatre in the East Village.  I do not make that prediction lightly.  I saw the show last night in the company of the talented Cott brothers - Casey and Corey.  Casey is a current Carnegie Mellon School of Drama student, and Corey is a recent grad.  Corey had been cast in "Inexperienced Love," but had to back out when he was recently cast to replace Jeremy Jordan as the lead in the run-away Broadway hit "Newsies"!

INFO ABOUT Inexperienced Love

Inexperienced Love
Take this fast-paced plunge into the mystery of love. Following three dynamic story lines, the musical explores the romance, discoveries, and pitfalls of this puzzling emotion. Hearts shatter, candy is eaten, and you might even become betrothed.
Venue: Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street
Prices: $15.00 - $18.00
Performance Dates: August 12, 2012 - August 22, 2012
Box Office/Info:             866-468-7619      
Producer: iLove Productions
Author: Jacob Tischler
Director: Benjamin Viertel

 SAT 8/18 @ 7:30-8:40PM
WED 8/22 @ 10:00-11:10PM

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