By Peter Frost
A jumbled ode to New York City, Adam Gwon’s Ordinary Days explores the anxiety of growing up and moving on to a world at once foreign and familiar. The Brave Potato production, directed by Robbie Sellers ’14, opened to an enthusiastic audience at the Black Box Theater this past weekend. Telling two parallel stories through brief vignettes, the musical was a well-intentioned but ultimately superficial production, which bit off more of the Big Apple than it was able to chew.
The first and more deftly-handled of the two stories tracked the burgeoning relationship between two young people attempting to steer their lives in new directions. Idealistic and enthusiastic artist assistant Warren (Gibson Oakley ’16) meets Deb (Rosie Ouellet ’15) after he finds her journal on the street. A frazzled and insensitive graduate student with limited time and patience, Deb initially rejects Warren’s attempts at friendship, but the two eventually bond over their shared anxieties about the future.
Comedy, a genre that the actors and Sellers seem more comfortable with than drama, reigned supreme. The fast pace and shifting scenes lent themselves well to the energy of the humor, with Oakley and Ouellet proving more than game for the production’s comedic elements. When the segment attempted to move into dramatic territory, however, it faltered. Moments of doubt and confusion felt stilted and lacked the spark of life found in the more amusing sections. A supposedly climactic moment in which the two friends unleashed a torrent of papers covered in encouraging messages registered as artificial rather than profound.
The second set of vignettes told the more somber story of young couple Jason and Claire, played by Taylor Hartwell ’14 and Rioghnach Robinson ’16 respectively. Following the progression of their relationship from the day they move in together, the story examined the emotional tug-of-war between rigid, traditional Jason and inconsistent, adventurous Claire, two individuals who seem to have only their love in common. The section presented a far more disjointed portrait than the one offered by the previous set of vignettes. Claire and Jason oscillated between optimism and anxiety, with little attention paid to why these changes in mood occurred or how they affected the couple’s relationship.
The saving grace of this segment of the show was Robinson’s performance as Claire. Robinson captured the emotions underneath Claire’s surface and gave the character a gravity and a quiet sense of dignity. Robinson allowed for the glimpses into Claire’s life to exceed the sum of their parts. She also seemed to be the only actor aware of the area around her, adjusting her voice to suit both the character and the narrow confines of the Black Box performance space.
As a whole, the play, like its characters, suffered from a crisis of identity. Merging comedy, drama and music, Sellers’s fast pace and staccato execution never allowed the characters to exist in a tangible time or space, an issue made especially evident during the more serious sections of the show. The tone of the play seemingly shifted with each song, inflicting a sense of whiplash upon the viewer. Dialogue flew by, scenes shifted within seconds and big moments overtook the quiet but essential exposition necessary for the dramatic elements to register. The music, albeit one of the more enjoyable elements of the show, overpowered the small space and intimate feel of the play. Some of the musical numbers approached dangerously shrill heights.
The fact that Ordinary Days’s many moving parts never satisfyingly coalesced cannot be attributed to a lack of effort or enthusiasm. The production had an abundance of energy and, at times, it was infectious. Laughs sprang consistently from a lively audience and smiles abounded throughout the show. The comedic moments hit their marks with skill and gusto. But it was also this uncontrolled energy that overpowered the subtle moments and cluttered a story that ought to ring with clarity.
Buried within the bombast of Ordinary Days is a story worth telling, one that captures the anxiety of growing up and growing out of ill-fitting hopes and dreams. This is a show with something compelling to say; unfortunately, it lost its voice somewhere along the way, and allowed the production’s extraordinary elements to become lost in an artificial and muddled ordinariness.