A Report on ‘Life: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts’ at Monumental Theatre Company

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Monumental Theatre Company presented an abridged reading of a brand new musical on Sunday, May 15th at Catholic University in Washington, DC. Life: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts, is an original piece by Neal Learner and follows a family of four through their beginning: the birth of twins; middle: the children’s adolescence into adulthood; and end: the death of the parents. The show has no tragic conflict or glowing hero, but instead illustrates the dramas, celebrations, struggles, and joy in the real arc of life.

Neal Lerner.
Neal Lerner.

Monumental Theatre Company is a fairly new organization. The project originated from Stewart Musical Productions, previously known as Limelight Theatre, and was revived in 2015 by Michael Windsor, Jimmy Mavrikes, and Beth Amann.

Their website describes the company as being, “committed to presenting thought-provoking, emotionally-driven theatrical material; championing new work; and encouraging audiences of all ages to engage with the Millennial generation’s emerging artistic voice.”

True to their mission statement, the company has a New Work Series, which is how Life: A Comic Opera in Three Acts came to fruition. Clare Shaffer directed the fledgling musical, with musical direction by creator Neal Learner. Daniel Flores provided the accompaniment and the cast of characters included Will Mark Stevenson (Charles), Alicia Osborne (Joan), Sophie Schulman (Sally), and Adrian Iglesias (Max).

The set for the reading was four chairs and music stands. The show’s full production description calls for much the same (four chairs and a table) so this presentation was a very close feel to what one would imagine the show to be like.

The subject matter, like the set, was simple. There are no complex relationships or plot twists. The four characters are quite average individuals and the piece does not try to pretend otherwise.

The story starts with a bang, or rather a scream, and the back and forth of soon to be parents Joan and Charles, while Joan is in the throes of childbirth. The music is beautifully layered with all four actors singing through most of the musical, which includes the twins, Sally and Max, making punctuated baby cries as back-up singing in the opening number.

Twin babies are born, they grow, and they have sibling rivalry.  The show proceeds in a very natural way.  The description prevails: the show is simple.

The cast during the reading. Photo courtesy of Monumental Theatre Company.
The cast during the reading. Will Mark Stevenson (Charles). Alicia Osborne (Joan), Sophie Schulman (Sally), and Adrian Iglesias (Max).

The incredible potential of this new musical is that it is profoundly relatable.  The basic truth in life is that people are born, they live, and they die.  Everything else is variable. Life has intense happiness and excruciating pain, impressive accomplishment and embarrassing failure, joyful new beginnings and gut-wrenching loss. These are all emotions that everyone can relate to without knowing the intricate details of each individual situation. What this show seems to be presenting truly is as the title states: Life.

Thank you to Monumental Theatre Company for producing the reading of this impressive new material, and thank you to the creator of the musical, Neal Learner, for highlighting the beauty in the simplicity of this thing called life. I look forward to seeing what comes next for the production and for Monumental.

(from left): Director Clare Shaffer, actor Will Mark Stevenson, playwright Neal Learner and actors Adrian Iglesias and Sophie Schulman pose after performance of 'Life: A Comic Opera.' Photo by Nina Learner.
(from left): Director Clare Shaffer, actor Will Mark Stevenson, playwright Neal Learner and actors Adrian Iglesias and Sophie Schulman pose after performance of ‘Life: A Comic Opera.’ Photo by Nina Learner.

Life: A Comic Opera in Three Short Acts was read for one performance only on Sunday, May 15, 2016 by Monumental Theatre Company, performed at Catholic University-620 Michigan Avenue, NE, in Washington, DC. For more information on upcoming events at Monumental Theatre Company, go to their website.