The human condition can be challenging, whatever your age, gender, background, or experience. Inner Voices explores, with insight and humor, some of those debilitating personal difficulties, and the need to communicate with others (who just might understand), in three intimate musical shorts commissioned by Premieres for this season’s fifth installment of the biannual series.
Opening the trio of world-premiere musical monologues, Just One “Q” is set in a nursing home in small-town Arkansas in 1961, as Benny the orderly sings the “awful and tender” story of Bertha and Julynne, two rancorous women with an intertwined history who do battle over a game of Scrabble and come to terms with their past. Though the main points of writer Ellen Fitzhugh’s plot feel contrived (would these two longtime enemies really end up spending their time together in old age?), T. Oliver Reid, under the light-hearted direction of Brad Rouse, brings an amiable tone to Benny’s melodious narration, with a jazzy rhythm, downhome accent, amusing impersonations of the female antagonists, and engaging eye contact with the audience.
Backed by Mary Ann McSweeney on bass and Harry Hassell on reeds, Reid’s winning vocals, and Andrew Resnick’s breezy musical direction and orchestrations of Ted Shen’s appealing score, make for a delightful 35-minute performance with an unexpectedly silly ending that explains the titular “Q.”
With Margot Bordelon’s sensitive direction, Dan Collins’ penetrating characterization of obsessive-compulsive disorder and germaphobia comes to life in Nancy Anderson’s beautifully sung and acted tour-de-force performance in The Pen. Laura is a professional woman who has lost jobs and decimated her social life as a result of the psychological issues from which she suffers. As she prepares to leave for work on one particularly bad morning–after checking, double-checking, and rechecking that she has turned off all of her appliances–she is waylaid by a strange purple pen she finds in her pocketbook while searching for her keys. Her perkiness turns from humor to concern, then alarm, panic, hysteria, and pain, and back to cheerfulness, as she reveals in heartrending song the traumatic events from her past that triggered her neuroses and dysfunction.
An expressive score by Julianne Wick Davis echoes the character’s rapidly changing moods on piano and guitar, with expert musical direction by Alexander Rovang and orchestrations by Davis and musicians Tom Monkell and Dan Erben.
When “it just doesn’t feel right,” listen to your inner voice and do the right thing for yourself and others. That’s the heartwarming message of The Booty Call, with music and words by Michael Thurber, and words and direction by Saheem Ali. Thurber is Gabe, a single young singer/songwriter who is interrupted while recording his new album by the eponymous phone call from a female acquaintance. As he reflects on his past monogamous relationships and infrequent one-night stands, he channels his thoughts and emotions into his music, performing live on synth, percussion, and bass, singing and rapping to the rhythms he creates.
Through his artistic medium, he resolves in his mind the actions he wants to take and is at last able to speak his intentions to her. Thurber’s style is thoroughly charming and his post-modern musical compositions impressive.
Inner Voices’ pairings of writers and composers are supported by an effective design team. Reid Thompson’s sets create familiar ambiences for the situations and allow for quick and efficient changes between the segments. Costumes by M. Meriwether Snipes define the characters, with a white uniform for Benny, office attire for Laura, and casual at-home underwear for Gabe. Oliver Watson captures the flashing colored lights of Gabe’s memory of a dance club in The Booty Call, and Walter Trarbach’s sound is clear and balanced throughout the three performances.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and ten minutes, including one intermission.
This video is from the 2014 production: