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Monday, 11 July 2011 20:26

In My Room: Songs from an Unmade Bed

Written by Andrea Braun
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Songs from an Unmade Bed is an unexpected little gem that follows The Crumple Zone on weekend nights at 10:30 with two stand-alone Sunday matinees, one of which I attended yesterday. It’s diverting, occasionally moving, always relatable, and performed well by the multitalented Justin Ivan Brown. The time is “last night,” according to the program, and the setting is entirely identifiable as New York City. We’re told that’s where the show takes place, but we wouldn’t need to be because the central character (called simply “Man”) sings about the city in both celebration and lamentation, a New York “state of mind,” always at the forefront.

G.P. Hunsaker’s set for “Crumple Zone” is adapted to the man’s sloppy bedroom with a few minor adjustments, including the addition of three musicians, Nick Moramarco (piano), Cory Webb (cello) and Anthony Wininger (percussion, and with a full set of traps, even). If you’ve been to the Gaslight Theatre, you can see how crowded this should be. But, remarkably, it isn’t. Unless the man is interacting with the musicians, which he does a few times, they sort of blend in with the old pizza and Chinese food boxes, pieces of clothing, magazines and newspapers and other detritus of a life lived messily.

“Unplugged,” Brown sounds good vocally, although he does seem to be modulating a bit to accommodate the space, as do the musicians. This seems to be more of a detriment to the cello than the other two, but Webb gets a nice turn as a “bad” cellist in a song about an ex-lover (“He Plays the Cello”) in which the man talks about having to listen to his boyfriend mutilating the strings. I often wonder how good musicians manage to credibly play or sing badly when a show requires it. Not incidentally, the band is in pajamas. The man is too, most of the time, but he strips down to his tightie-whities for an early number.

The performance piece is more of a song cycle than an actual play. The pieces allow the man to reflect on aspects of his life and experience in love, death, hook-ups, jealousy, class differences (“The Man in the Starched White Shirt,” one of my favorites, using a shirt and tie as a prop to represent that particular ex); in fact, name the experience, and it’s probably here. The man is variously pensive, hopeful, discouraged, depressed, and humorous. He opens by musing on his own death (“Here in my Bed”) thinking about how he could die alone and wondering who would find him and when, to the last song (“To Sing”) which is nearly joyous in its sort of Annie-like optimism about things to come and the pure pleasure of self-expression.

“I Want to Go Out Tonight” allows the man to rock out, thinking about how much fun it would be to find somewhere to dance all night (which he demonstrates through Cindy Duggan’s clever choreography) and find someone to bring home. Like most single people, sometimes he’s looking for the “forever love,” but sometimes just some sexual healing (“Perfect, Finite”). He doesn’t like tawdry affairs (“The Other, Other Woman”) or have much use for actors (“Exit Right”) and he is beset with concerns about aging and losing his appeal.  Here is where Brown is a bit less than than believable because that ain’t going to happen in the near future. On the other hand, the character is a gay man, and body image issues are often part of the package, just like they are with women who go to great lengths to appear forever 21.

The man rather casually tidies up the room as the show progresses, and most symbolically, makes up the bed as he sings the last number. The piece is well directed by Seth Ward Pyatt (also musical director, though Moramarco gives the on-stage cues) and Steven J. Miller’s lights are evocative, adjusted for each mood. Unexpected keys, rhythms and rhymes provide a kind of Cole Porter kick (Like rhyming “adolescent” and “quiescent,”; “economy” and “brie”; “pillow” and “peccadillo.”) Lyrics are by Mark Campbell with music credited to 18 discrete composers. Songs From An Unmade Bed is a pleasant hour with an appealing character whose voice speaks to and for us all.

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