The Hub Theatre has one of the most intimate spaces I have seen for professional theater in the Metro area. The collaborators who created this show have built a very informal, welcoming environment for the production of Wish List.
The theatre seats less than 40 and felt especially intimate for those in one of the four seats on each side of the acting space. There is no backstory provided for this production, so the stage design has props, books, and instruments scattered rather haphazardly about the stage space ready for use when needed by the performers.
When the show begins it is a little unclear, as Rose McConnell walks into the acting space while chatting genially with audience members. She sits to tune her guitar while greeting friends in the audience, then starts playing the first song with house lights still up. It felt to me as if she was our hostess for the evening and the audience had all joined her at her place for some hot chocolate in front of the fire.
Coming in through the audience to join in the song was Sasha Olinick, the lone male performer, just before they are joined by Katie Jeffries who helps establish that she and the other two “actors” are not playing characters, but are indeed, themselves. The moments we do see these folks acting is when they sing, share poems, or tell stories in character.
Each of the performers had great moments. In “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Jeffries provides a terrific rendition with Olinick that is thought-provoking and hilarious. Olinick’s voice is an instrument with range, whether singing or reciting poems. He provided a touching “Hallelujah” and a rocking “Candlelight” as well as readings that shift from Dr. Seuss to Robert Frost. McConnell did the heavy lifting with musical accompaniment, playing guitar, keyboard, and shakers. She did well by her songs, but my favorite from her was a reading of “Jacob Dawes,” a poem by Ogden Nash that I did not know.
Other Hub Company members who collaboratively built this show with the actors, include Helen Murray Pafumi and the director, Kelsey Mesa. Part of the joy in the Wish List is in learning what represents the holidays for others and reflecting on our own wishes. The collaborators asked such questions of each other and of their audience. Sometimes the stories, poems or songs are new and are not part of one’s own cultural or family traditions. Sometimes they remind us of what is deep within us and can viscerally evoke the holiday spirit. Heartfelt moments included beautiful versions of “Silent Night” and “Wintersong,” both of which were well-augmented by short stories. At those times, this performance shone brightly.
Not everything clicked on opening night. It seemed like the show was trying to appear impromptu, and yet some of it felt oddly staged. During a favorite song of mine, “Fairytale of New York,” the switch from singing around a piano to acting the relationship portrayed in the song felt awkward. I wanted to know more about the performers’ connections. Who are these people and how do they know each other?
If your wish list includes an intimate and informal evening with songs and stories that reflect the holidays, the Hub Theatre is the place to be.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.