“A simple tale of love and hope,” is the way local playwright Helen Murray Pafumi describes her new work, The Magi. That is an understatement.
In its premiere at Fairfax’s The Hub Theatre, The Magi is a lovely little holiday gem about a couple of indie-musicians who have taken the leap into a relationship. Now they wonder; what’s next? Is this all there; being a decent road band touring small clubs and having good sex? Is there any more? Is there a way to hold each other just right to make it for the long term?
Sure, The Magi raises some regular, age-old quandaries about the human condition including can love and a long-term partnership become suffocating. But, The Magi finds some ways to bring-out fresh aspects about relationships in what is one-part live concert, with original music and lyrics by Eli Pafumi, and another part an old-fashioned two-hander about a couple going through an uneven patch in their relationship. Shifting between the couple’s private moments and those of a live public musical concert-like performance, The Magi is wise and playful, open and authentic.
Under the caring, perceptive touch of Director Kelsey Mesa, The Magi has an unhurried, often seemingly unscripted attitude about the struggles of two unconfident people in their 30s. Mesa also builds in some scampering about the theatre venue so that the production is far from static. The original roots music and lyrics were crafted by the 17 year-old Eli Pafumi who is the son of the playwright Helen Pafumi. His music is a unifying acoustic sound for the production; his lyrics help propel the arc of the play.
So, let’s meet the two cast and the two characters.
There is Daven Ralston who knocks the socks off of her character Judevine. Judevine is a skittish sort. She is fearful of commitment, usually looking at the not-bright side of life. After all to Judevine, something negative is expected to happen. So be wary. In an earlier interview with Ralston, she described her Judevine character as “compassionate and frustrating, independent and indecisive, joyful and brooding, spontaneous and pragmatic all in one.” A bulls-eye description of the Judevine character and how Ralston performs.
Rex Daugherty plays the role of Nixon. Daugherty’s Nixon is generally the opposite of Judevine. He is playful and chockful of love. Then again, he can be clingy one moment, then down-right insensitive. As Nixon, Daugherty throws his love on Ralston’s Judevine way too strong at first. Misplacing a favorite “lucky” guitar pick causes a serious meltdown. And explaining previous relationships, before Judevine; Nixon says “those past loves were just a precursor to this super love I have now.”
Daugherty and Ralston skillfully sing without amplification though some lyrics drift into the high ceiling and are lost.
Together the two play instruments that include guitar, violin, keyboard, piano, mandolin, even a kazoo.
The songs written by Eli Pafumi are well-accomplished in their resonant story-telling. The nine numbers have their own flavor and purpose contributing to the arc of the show. There are songs to introduce the two imperfect characters to the audience with titles and lyrics to match such as “Foolish Minds” and “Scares Like Ours.” Next come introspective musical numbers to illustrate the couple’s fumbling days when neither is sure of the other with “Like the Rest” and “Gone Without a Word.” Then as confusion moves to more certainty are songs that demonstration the true love each has for the other such as Nix’s lovesick “Judevine” matched with “Bundle Up,” Judevine’s plaintive take on love.
The scenic design from Jonathan Dahm Robertson with lighting by Johnathan Alexander are charmers, especially for anyone who has ever frequented a dive bar or road house known for acoustic music. In this case the road house is called “O’Henry’s.” There are ropes of clear and white lights that dangle and illuminate as well as set moods. There is chalked graffiti on the black theater walls and several café tables for a few audience members to sit in front of nicely fabricated wood bandstand.
The Magi is about two people for whom material things are not the key to their lives. hey don’t want to be billionaires or live in a tower. They just want to figure out love and their lives. Under Mesa’s direction, the Hub production carefully and sympathetically explores the sacrifices, or better, let’s call them the ‘adaptations’ the couple consider both singly and together as they work to figure out if they and can stay together.
The Magi is like spending a toasty evening with someone you care for in front of a cozy, warm fire that sparks, snaps, and beguiles. I left the performance quite contented. And that is a great feeling to have.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Note: There are opening acts of about 15 minutes before each performance of The Magi will include: December 4th matinee: Eli Pafumi; December 9th: Erin Weston; December 10th: An Evening with Ari Jacobson; December 11th: Ricky Drummond; December 16th: Rebecca Speas; December 17th: An Evening with Ari Jacobson; and December 8th matinee: Eli Pafumi.
Note: For those who have visited the Hub Theatre in the past, please be aware that there is major ongoing construction on Silver Court. Some new condos are going up. So follow the Silver Court signage closely for parking has changed.
In the Moment: Interviews with the Cast, Composer, Director, and Artistic Director of The Hub Theatre’s ‘The Magi’ Opening This Weekend by David Siegel.