By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
Everyone in the world is (or has been) lonely. Composer Adam Gwon’s pop opera “Ordinary Days” introduces us to four people in New York who make connections, which may or may not become permanent.
I know, you’ve seen this a million times before, but Gwon’s little chamber opera charms with fine melodies and often clever lyrics.
Twenty-something Deb (Jamie Channell Guzman) is an ambitious, strident, nervous refugee from small-town America, and the exact opposite of laid-back, terminally upbeat Warren (Patrick Mayuyu). He’s looking for a “BFF” right now. She’s busy hurtling toward the “Big Picture” — her future.
Warren is a wannabe successful visual artist waiting to be discovered. At the moment, he’s house and cat sitting for a “very, very influential downtown artist” — aka a “tagger” — now in the slammer for his “art.”
Warren spends his days on New York streets, passing out flyers with upbeat advice like “Don’t worry, everything will be OK” and hoping, somehow, to be discovered.
Meanwhile, wound-tight-as-a-drum, no-nonsense Deb (Jamie Channell Guzman) sings that she has “dreams to fulfill and ideas to discover; they’re just never where I am.” She’s in grad school, though “I really don’t wanna be here.”
When Deb drops the notes for her graduate thesis on Virginia Woolf in Union Square, Warren picks them up, finds a phone number and makes a date to meet her by the Monet in room 21 of the Metropolitan Museum, leading to one of the funniest songs (“Saturday at the Met”), describing Deb’s difficulty finding her way around that gigantic place.
Deb isn’t sure what to make of Warren. She wants to know where Warren sees himself in five years; Warren is content to see and experience what is in front of him at this moment.
It’s a friendship made in — well, somewhere; maybe desperation.
Claire (Kym Pappas) and Jason (Brent Roberts) are somewhat more settled 30-somethings who have been dating for a year. Jason is downright ecstatic that Claire has finally agreed to let him move in with her.
Claire is a bit less thrilled, partly because it’s her place that has to provide space for somebody else’s stuff. Her pensive, nostalgic cleaning-out song “Let Things Go” will strike a familiar chord with most people.
But that’s only part of the problem. Claire is also a commitment-phobe, with a tendency to run away from, rather to, Jason. He just wants to spend his life with her.
Can these relationships survive? Find out at Diversionary Theatre’s Black Box, where Matt Graber directs “Ordinary Days” for InnerMission Productions through Aug. 12.
Gwon’s songs are reminiscent of Jason Robert Brown’s, with some Sondheim tossed in. The main Sondheim tribute is “Calm,” which is anything but — it’s Deb’s amusing, if warp-speed, search for something she’s never had.
My favorite songs are Claire’s lovely “I’ll Be Here” (which has been covered by no less than Audra McDonald), in which we find out why she’s so skittish about relationships, and Jason’s pensive, even poignant “Favorite Places.”
The most engaging characters are Guzman’s nervous-nelly Deb and Mayuyu’s take-it-as-it-comes Warren. I can see these two becoming friends; though complete opposites, they both have things to offer each other.
This is a fine cast. Roberts has a lovely, easy-to-listen-to baritone. Guzman’s high, occasionally piercing soprano is perfect for Deb, and would be very much at home on Broadway. I could watch and listen to Mayuyu all day. You’ll never catch him acting; he disappears into his character. He also has a lovely voice.
Gwon did actors no favors in creating the skittish Claire, a difficult character to like. But Pappas makes her convincing.
Graber does the best possible directing job in the tiny space he has to work with. The show really should be staged in a larger venue like San Diego Repertory’s Space Theatre, because it needs more room and would be more effective with some projections of New York scenes.
Bravo to Music Director (and splendid pianist) Hazel Friedman, who provides excellent accompaniment for the singers.
InnerMission continues to impress with its productions. Bravo to them on their first foray into musical theater.
—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.