Regional Reviews: San Diego
A struggling and deeply neurotic grad student, Deb (Jamie Channell Guzman), loses her important dissertation but retrieves it after getting an email from a gay artistic house sitter, Warren (Patrick Mayuyu). After he returns the essay to her, an awkward and meaningful friendship begins between the two. Elsewhere, an enthusiastic boyfriend, Jason (Brent Roberts), moves into his partner Claire's (co-Artistic Director Kym Pappas) apartment. While Jason finds himself falling for Claire, she acts emotionally guarded toward him. Gwon isn't very interested in the different narratives intersecting, and focuses instead on how the New Yorkers evolve in this 90-minute production at the Diversionary Black Box.
Those in the audience familiar with musical theater may take a while to fully embrace Gwon's sung-through script. Instead of starting with a catchy tune or big opener, his first several songs introduce each character. Songs such as "One by One by One," "Don't Wanna Be Here," and "Let Things Go" provide lots of information about the protagonists. At first, something seems off in director Matthew E. Graber's interpretation. There are times early on when the presentation is similar to watching a recital instead of a traditional musical. As the performers spend a good amount of time apart from each other, one can feel at a distance from the action happening onstage.
Momentum starts to build for the rest of the night in "Saturday at the Met," which features all of the stars. Comedic moments are funnier, situations are more engaging, and Gwon's score (played on piano by musical director Hazel Friedman) begins to fully work. Shortly before this point, one-on-one melodic conversations become a bigger part of the evening, which benefits the dramatic sequences in the second half. Graber stages these scenes in a reflective way, as the young adults make decisions that can affect their futures. Each performer humorously and empathetically depicts how their characters handle major changes in life.
Perhaps as a deliberate choice, the leads don't seem focused on vocal perfection or scene-stealing singing. Instead, their intentions are to act out each number with as much honesty as possible. They sing on a New York City themed set by James M. McCullock and wear clothes designed by Guzman that are well suited for the story and location. Mayuyu and Guzman are generally used in comedic moments, while Roberts and Pappas bring dramatic heft to a few bittersweet melodies about love and relationships. When dueting in "Sort-of Fairy Tale" and "Big Picture," Mayuyu and Guzman comically depict the unusual connection between Warren and Deb. Roberts and Pappas each get a solo number that touchingly fleshes out their roles. Roberts' moving rendition of "Favorite Places" and Pappas' handling of the confessional number "I'll be Here" feature soothing music and revealing lyrics.
Without overdoing sentimental sequences, Ordinary Days manages to be optimistic and cheerful. Throughout the vignettes that feature the quartet, Gwon suggests that people have the capacity to live happier existences once they know what truly brings them joy. It's an uncynical message that grows in impact during the staging. Although Graber's rendition requires some patience on the audience's part to truly appreciate Gwon's storytelling, the payoffs are worth the ride.
As a first musical for InnerMission, Ordinary Days suggests that the company should consider producing other works from similar up-and-coming writers.
InnerMission Productions presents Ordinary Days through August 12, 2017. Performs Sundays through Saturdays at 4545 Park Blvd. Tickets start at $20.00 and can be purchased online at www.innermissionproductions.org or by phone at 1-619-324-8970.