Right from the start, Ryan McCurdy warns us that he won’t be telling the truth. Or maybe he does, at least in part, in his one-man Off-Broadway musical story Whiterock Cliff, performed and streamed live each night from New York’s Funkadelic Studios. The new three-camera virtual presentation from Goode Productions, with music and lyrics by McCurdy (Pip’s Island) and a book co-written with Ellie Pyle (Bespoke Plays), is a visceral reflection/self-help therapy session on creating art through the trauma of divorce, dealing with depression, and surviving it all, framed in the context of decade-old memories of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Directed by Mary Chieffo (Star Trek: Discovery) and delivered in direct address to the cameras, the intimate meta-theatrical narrative delves into the haunted psyche of McCurdy’s self-named character and his fictional alter-ego Rhys through disturbing reminiscences that trigger a flood of feelings, original folk-rock songs, and interwoven stream-of-consciousness connections with the Trail’s history, his own relationships, and his creative process of writing. Moving around the real-life setting of the West 40th Street studio, McCurdy talks and sings and plays a total of eight musical instruments with raw emotion and intriguing subterfuge, invoking metaphors (of turtles, the game of telephone, and lightning strikes) and revealing a lot, without ever fully disclosing what’s true and what isn’t in the multi-layered story – because, he notes, “you get to tell any story you survive.”
Though McCurdy appears alone on stage, the show (which he tells us, mask in hand, was not intended, pre-pandemic, to be a solo performance) also features the expressive voices of Mick Bleyer, Nick Corley, Brittany Curran, Stephen Lyons, and Katrien Van Riel as the array of characters he encounters along the way. And co-writer Pyle is heard in a significant sequence of cell phone calls in the supporting roles of herself and her counterpart Emma – failed love to McCurdy’s Rhys.
The script could use some trimming, to eliminate redundancies in the protagonist’s go-back musings over the events he recounts from 2010-19, and the lingering emotions that result, for an even more impactful message on life, death, love, loneliness, and creative productivity. Nonetheless, the storytelling in Whiterock Cliff is compelling and the theme of subliminal fears about telling the truth, being a disappointment to the people you care about, and battling the demons in your mind is consummately human.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.