Tue 22 Jul, 2014
Tags: 3 STARS, Alan Schmuckler, Charles Mee, Closing Week!, Days Like Today, Emily Berman, Laura Eason, Michael Halberstam
The first thought I had after seeing Writer’s Theatre’s production of Days Like Today was: who has a four-season vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard? I don’t doubt the possibility, just the probability. So many other plays and films and television shows and books depict profoundly wealthy people closing up their Martha’s Vineyard escapes in the fall. Many of the hotels, shops, restaurants, and other businesses on Martha’s Vineyard completely shut down for the winter. As the action of Days Like Today hurdles mundane months from scene to scene, the principal characters all just happen to land at the Martha’s Vineyard getaway house on New Year’s Eve.
Days Like Today is a little farfetched, and a bit pretentious. Still, Laura Eason’s adaptation is far less farfetched and pretentious than its inspiration, the plays of Charles Mee (particularly Summertime), and Days Like Today is more engaging.
Days Like Today is the story of a young woman, Tessa, left at the altar for no particularly compelling reason. Tessa’s father, Frank, is a classics professor who is gay and dating a much younger man, a former student of his named Edmund. Tessa’s mother, Maria, is a cougar who is sexually adventurous and dating a younger man, a former dance instructor of her daughter’s named Francois. (Get it? Her husband is named Frank and her boyfriend is named Francois and they are both teachers. Really!?) Tessa’s misery is further complicated by a pizza delivery guy, James, who falls in love with her at first sight, and who just happens to have a Ph.D. in classics, just like her dear old dad. By the time everybody shows up at the Martha’s Vineyard house on New Year’s Eve, most of them are surprised to find that Tessa has not left there since her wedding day disaster.
Either Tessa’s job — translating the photo captions of a single Italian coffee table book into English and French — pays extremely well and in advance, or she has a duffel bag full of small unmarked bills, because if she were getting any money from either of her parents they would have known that she was still at the vacation house. Such inconsistencies, annoyances, and first-world problems are prevalent enough to make even a Glencoe audience raise a skeptical eyebrow. Laura Eason has done a fine job of rhinoplasty on the upturned nose of Charles Mee’s plays, but a rewrite would make the characters more organic and thereby more sympathetic.
Luckily, Laura Eason’s book is paired with Alan Schmuckler’s amazing songs. Tuneful and catchy, poetic and profound, from “10,000 Times” to “Tuscany” to “Quartet,” Schmuckler’s music and lyrics carry this story into our hearts. Some of the credit for the wonderment in the music goes to the musicians, particularly the complementary playing of Paul von Mertens on woodwinds and Carmen Kassinger on violin/viola. Like nearly every piano played in a theatre pit band at any time anywhere, the piano played by Austin Cook should be turned around with the harp facing the wall, and a mattress placed between the piano and the wall to muffle the sound; from a seat in the audience of any reasonably acoustically designed theatre, a piano onstage almost always sounds too loud.
Days Like Today is graced with a phenomenal cast of singer/actors. The jilting groom Arnaud is played by Jarrod Zimmerman, who is fine in the role, but justifiably doesn’t have a lot to do. Tessa’s new suitor James is played to charming effect by Will Mobley. Jonathan Weir as Frank, Susie McMonagle as Maria, Stephen Schelhardt as Edmund, and Jeff Parker as Francois could each deftly carry Days Like Today, if the narrative were told from a different angle. Emily Berman’s subtle performance as the emotionally overwhelmed Tessa is only surpassed by her extraordinary alto.
Days Like Today is an unconventional love story full of actors and songs you will likely adore, actors and songs that are able to largely make up for residual pretentiousness in the characters and story that adapting playwright Laura Eason did not quite delouse from the original Charles Mee source material.
(“Days Like Today“ runs through July 27 at Writer’s Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe. 847-242-6000.)
Days Like Today production photos by Michael Brosilow.
* Visit Theatre In Chicago for more information on this show. Days Like Today – Writer’s Theatre – Play Detail – Theatre In Chicago