By Tina Arth
I was utterly unprepared for the impact of Broadway Rose’s production of Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days. What little I knew about the show left me expecting a muddled tale four oddly paired, shallow millennials seeking what passes for meaning in modern-day NYC, punctuated by a series of self-absorbed and often irrelevant songs. Saying my expectations were off the mark would be gross understatement. What I saw was a beautiful, intensely moving (and often hilarious) show as relevant to an aging West Coast hippie chick as it was to the sophisticated big city theater fiends who comprised its early audiences when it made its 2009 New York debut.
In about 90 minutes, the show’s 20 songs tell a story of Warren, Deb, Claire, and Jason – four people searching for meaningful lives and connections while navigating the complex culture of post-911 New York City. Claire and Jason are a couple, but their attempt to co-habit leads to a host of problems as they try to cram their combined physical and emotional baggage into a small apartment. Deb comes from a modest, confining background and has fallen into a graduate program in her search for a larger world, but she’s frantically going through the motions of writing her thesis on Sylvia Plath with no real sense of purpose. Warren is an earnest nebbish – an aspiring artist cat-sitting for his mentor, who is serving a sentence for sharing his philosophy through unauthorized tagging (apparently, one person’s art is another person’s graffiti). The almost invisible Warren, who picks up abandoned junk from city streets while offering his and his mentor’s “art” (a series of sweet, helpful maxims) to the passing horde, finds Deb’s mislaid thesis notes. The two awkwardly connect – he has visions of a platonic Kismet, she’s just annoyed (and stunningly ungrateful!). In one of those miracles that only make sense in musicals, Warren and Deb find common ground, and while they never actually meet Jason and Claire, they end up having a profound effect on their lives. The poignant and beautiful revelations at the end left me, and much of the audience, near (or in) tears – exactly what I wanted, as it lifts the show from rom-com to art.
There is nothing ordinary about Quinlan Fitzgerald (Deb), Seth M. Renne (Warren), Kailey Rhodes (Claire), and Benjamin Tissell (Jason). Ably supported by musical director/pianist Eric Nordin, each actor creates a memorable character, and each is able to take full advantage of several beautiful opportunities to shine. The characters played by the women are initially sufficiently difficult that our sympathies naturally migrate to the men. Fitzgerald’s cynicism and Rhodes’ bursts of anger are unpredictably fierce at times, but as the tale unfolds the two women allow us to empathize with their disaffection. Fitzgerald’s “Beautiful” and Rhodes’ “I’ll Be Here” reveal their evolution, and we ultimately celebrate the insight and healing that they find. Tissell’s performance is a subtle treat – his vocals evoke the sincerity of a man who has truly found “the one” and doesn’t know how to keep her. Renne is just fabulous – goofy, naïve, persistent, so oblivious to the negativity around him that he is able to transform his little corner of the world.
Director Isaac Lamb has given what could be seen as a “little” show all of the sensitivity and perception needed to present a pointillist tale of how meaning can be found in the seemingly trivial, ordinary events of Ordinary Days.
Ordinary Days is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, October 14th.