San Francisco Theater Review: ARLINGTON (Magic Theatre Company in Fort Mason)

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by Chuck Louden on November 25, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS

San Francisco’s Magic Theatre prides itself on cultivating new plays and giving up-and-coming playwrights the opportunity to produce new and thought provoking theater.  The estimable company lives up to this manifesto by presenting the world premiere of Arlington, an innovative show which takes the audience on an entertaining and emotional musical journey.  Collaborators Victor Lodato (book and lyrics) and Polly Pen (composer) have created a unique piece which is filled with irony and black humor.

This chamber musical, well-paced by director Jackson Gay, opens in this intimate thrust theater (the audience is on three sides) on Eric Flatmo’s comfortable living room set which has a homey atmosphere.  There is a piano player off to the side Analisa Leaming as Sara Jane in ARLINGTON at Magic Theatre.playing with a light and upbeat tone, and Sara Jane (Analisa Leaming), an all-American girl-next-door in a colorful sundress, enters singing about this lovely sunny day.  She is pretty, with a perfect figure and lovely long hair, and she has on just enough makeup to give her cheeks that not-quite natural glow.  She sings about her nice and simple life, excited about the prospect of her husband about to return from deployment in Iraq.  Yet all is not as it seems in this sung-through tale; life isn’t quite so rosy and this songbird is vocalizing as a way to deal with her caged solitude. She confesses being somewhat isolated to the ways of the world, and descriptions of her mother’s plastic surgeries are humorous, but as her story and insecurities are confessed, the music takes on a faster and more ominous tone.  Things with her mother are somewhat contentious and she isn’t quite as excited to have her husband come home as she first let on.

Pianist and music director Jeff Pew doesn’t just weigh in with musical accompaniment, but also gives voice to her husband and other male characters. As Sara Jane slowly becomes more vulnerable, the compelling ride (the less you know before seeing it, the better) keeps us wondering how events will unfold.  Will this be Sara Jane (Analisa Leaming) and the Pianist (Jeff Pew) in ARLINGTON at Magic Theatre.a diary of a mad housewife?

Both performers have equally taxing roles and Pew’s piano playing and performance as the husband matches the action and anxiety coming out of Sara Jane’s tale.  Ms. Leaming has a raw fragility and draws you in with her accomplished singing voice and extraordinarily telling facial expressions that speak more than dialogue ever could. Indeed, an especially strong moment has both the actors not speaking but communicating their emotions on dueling pianos. The show runs for a mere hour yet its intense intimacy packs quite a punch.

photos by Jennifer Reiley

Arlington
Magic Theater Company
Building D at Ft. Mason
scheduled to end on December 8, 2013
for tickets, call 415-441-8822 or visit http://magictheatre.org

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