A new show at the Bloomington Playwrights Project always has a bit of extra excitement. Yes, we’re curious about the play, but for each one they come up with a new way to introduce their supporters. For Spun it’s a karaoke style sing along as we followed the bouncing head of the Project’s director Chad Rabinovitz.
The BPP is dedicated to developing new plays and thebrother/sister rock musical Spun by Emily Goodson with music and lyrics by Jeremy Schonfeld which debuted there in 2013 is back for a return engagement. BPP artistic director Chad Rabinovitz tells us that the show has seventy or eighty pages of new dialog and six new songs…a work in progress with quite a bit new about it.
Certainly Wade McCollum as the returning older brother Jesse and Alison Cusano as his stay at home sister Molly look more the road worn musician and weary stuck at home pair than the fresh faced IU duo that debuted the show. Shane Cinal the original designer of their trashed garage returns with an even more artful and depressing mess. Even strings of Christmas lights can’t cheer it up. Lee Burckes who lit the show’s first outing has more tools at hand and does a beautiful job of highlighting the action and the atmosphere.
The crux of Spun is how character and memory work to make history and what a power the idea of home has over us. Jesse and Molly’s father was abusive and their mother had wild mood swings. Jesse liked it best when she was up and taught him guitar. Molly liked it best when she was down and not bothering her. While Jesse and Molly were out performing in a magical memory that both agree on, the mother they were supposed to watch committed suicide. Both are overcome with guilt.
Jesse packed up and left to escape and follow music. He remembers that he asked Molly to come. She remembers that he refused to take her. This isn’t the only time that their cherished memories are at odds. Molly remembers a family fight over tuna noodle casserole that ended with a piece of glass in her hand and Jesse singing to comfort her. Jesse remembers the fight and the piece of glass, but it’s over chicken potpie and Molly sang to him. They even disagree about the color of an old lamp in the garage. One says it’s green, the other says red and Lee Burckes obligingly changes the color on their cues.
I can’t be specific about developments in Spun’s dialog. It has been six years, but there’s more of it. The back-story is more clearly developed. Where Jesse’s been … lots of road stories with an account of three DUI’s while driving a tour bus and an outstanding warrant for assault in Akron, Ohio. What Molly’s been doing … the desperate efforts to care for the dying father and her current hand to mouth existence. The burden of the house and decline of the neighborhood. As the two talk through their history there’s always a bit of anger and blame mixed in with quite a lot of downright funny humor.
Wade McCollum is outstanding as the athletic Jesse. He can be open and optimistic with a winning smile or a bit manic, driven and on the edge of weary acceptance. Director Rabinovitz with choreographer Maxx Reed keep him moving in ways that might defeat a less agile actor. Alison Cusano is a game partner for lots of the movement as well. Throughout, her Molly is much more contained, sometimes guardedly joyful but often bitterly grim. In the vocals McCollum is offered parts that take him from the low to the mid and falsetto parts of his voice. Cusano has more straight ahead rock leads. A couple of their duets are the high points of the show.
In the finale, as Jesse and Molly burn the house and its burden of memories to the ground the two sing an optimistic duet. As I recall from the original production with a couple of college kids singing, the optimistic note seemed possible. With the more grizzled cast and their deeply nuanced stories, it seemed more of a sad pipe dream.
Music direction is by keyboard player Ryan Touhey with drummer Rocky Martin, guitarist Michael Paik, and bass player Aaron Chandler. The sound designer/mixer is Macy Kloville. The assistant director David Sheehan was the original Jesse. Costumes are by Scott B. Jones.
Emily Godson and Jeremy Schonfeld’s rock musical Spun, a developing brother/sister rock musical is at the Ted Jones Playhouse of the Bloomington Playwrights Project through February 17th
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker