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Hundred Days

Theatre Review by David Hurst - December 4, 2017


The Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus

There will undoubtedly be people who enjoy and connect with Hundred Days, an eclectic "concert musical" written by and starring real-life married couple Abigail and Shaun Bengson currently onstage at New York Theatre Workshop, but if you're like me you'll find it a challenge. Having knocked about for almost four years, including previous workshops in San Francisco (at Z Space), Cincinnati (Know Theatre) and here in New York at The Public as part of the Under the Radar Festival this past January, Hundred Days is now officially a "theatrical event". Or is it a meditative song cycle? Or is it a cabaret show gussied up for off-Broadway? Having endured its intermission-less 90 minutes at a recent weekend matinee, I vote for the latter but labeling it is beside the point. Ultimately, its fans will identify with its story of finding love and then being frightened by what that love might bring, and its detractors will be so bored by its self-indulgence they'll take a nap. For the record, there were plenty of both at the performance I attended.

To be sure, Hundred Days is brimming with talent. It's been slicky designed by Kris Stone (set & props), Andrew Hungerford (set and lights), Sydney Gallas (costumes) and Nicholas Pope (sound), and it's been cleverly choreographed by Sonya Tayeh with understated direction by Anne Kauffman, whose recent work on Mary Jane at NYTW was a triumph! Additionally, The Bengson's family band, who perform Hundred Days's hybrid score of alt-indie-folk-punk songs with verve and enthusiasm, consists of Colette Alexander (cello/vocals), Jo Lampert (accordion/vocals), Dani Markham (drums/vocals) and Reggie D. White (keyboards/vocals), are all terrific and boast substantial performing credits of their own.

But Hundred Days's story, written in conjunction with Sarah Gancher, can't support a 90-minute drama even when it's shoehorned into a "concert musical" framework. Its autobiographical plot focuses on the three-week period between the time Abigail and Shaun met at a party and subsequently got married. Upon meeting it's love at first sight and, after breaking up with her fiancée, Abigail immediately moves in with Shaun in his tiny Astoria apartment. Shaun is excited but has to break the news to his childhood friend Max that Max can't move in with him anymore. Unfortunately, Max is already in transit driving across the country with his belongings so that friendship doesn't end well. (But they sing a song about it so it's ultimately okay.) Everything's going well for the happy couple. They pour out their emotions sitting in diners and take long walks together wherein they plan their future and kick leaves. Then they decide to form a band together and do, but on the way to their first gig they rear end a UPS truck and Shaun is hurt. The accident triggers a long-festering dream of Abigail's that she's going to fall in love with a man and marry him, only to have him die suddenly after a hundred days. It paralyzes her and causes her to question everything in her life. She bolts the scene of the accident and, later, after they've come home from the hospital, she bolts their Astoria apartment. Shaun wakes up and goes looking for her, eventually finding her on the tip of Coney Island.

They eventually decide to cram a lifetime of living and memories into one hundred days to help Abigail move past her fear of committing to their relationship. If this sounds like a bore, it is, despite the fact both Abigail and Shaun Bengson are charismatic performers. There were many times during Hundred Days I had to stifle the urge to yell "who cares?!" at the stage. This is the kind of emotional psycho-babble you foist on your therapist, not on a paying audience. Containing lots of foot-stomping jigs and plaintive ballads, the Bengson's score is often tuneful but it's lyrically banal. Almost every song is a repetitive 4-chord progression saddled with repetitive lyrics that will strike the believers as introspective but will register as pretentious to the detractors. Amidst all the endless talking in Hundred Days, however, is a beautiful moment of stagecraft courtesy of Kauffman and Hungerford. Salt is a recurring theme in Abigail's back story and, through thin columns of light, salt (well, probably white sand) is poured creating a dazzling visual effect. If only the rest of their story could have been as compelling.


Hundred Days
Through December 31
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, between Bowery & 2nd Avenue
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: www.nytw.org


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