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Now.Here.This

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Three Stars


Photo by Carol Rosegg
Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff
Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen,
Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff
More production photographs

(Review by Tulis McCall)

It's amazing that we all have survived.
Our destiny is suddenly right here upon us!
Ladies and gentlemen, the moment
We've waited for all our lives has arrived.

Well, this group is nothing if not ambitious. And by this group I mean the extraordinary quartet of Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff and Jeff Bowen whose last outing was [title of show]. These people are not only talented but completely engaging. They have a connection with one another that nearly makes you jealous. This is a group of which you want to be a part, so when they invite you in to an exploration of the cosmos, you jump.

This show begins with a hilarious and daring riff on how we all got here. What are the chances that the earth was the perfect distance from the sun to create a Petri Dish of amino acids that morphed into life that turned into us? And add to that equation everything that had to conspire to get us all into the theatre at the same time? What are the chances of all that happening?

Wikipedia says a quindecillion trillion to one.

But still it happened, and the facts must prove something, yes? Something worth examining, yes? Turns out that Thomas Merton, a 20th century monk and writer, had something to say on this very subject. He believed that if you could step into the intersection of Now-Here-This you would get some answers. You could be a candidate for More Life. And who wouldn’t want that. So that is what these merry pranksters propose to do in the time we have together. They are going on a quest for More Life. They are diving into the center of it ALL.

The fact that it turns out to be an exploration of each of their childhoods, with an extra serving of schmaltz on the side is kind of disappointing.

The foursome starts out at the Natural History Museum (complete with Roger Reese voiceover), and one by one each sees an exhibition object that sends them careening off like a comet into their past.

Bowen and Bell both remember being the class clowns in order to cover up that they were gay. Blickenstaff did some pretty outrageous deeds to her next-door neighbor’s kitchen floor just to get attention. Blackwell did everything right in public in order to keep people from ever wondering what kind of OCD clutter was behind her front door. There is a double visit to dying grandmothers. There is yearning for parental love combined with pride in parental achievement.

On the up side, this is all beautifully executed as well as being very, very smart.

It’s just that the set up for the piece had nothing to do with what followed. It is as though I was promised a trip to Disneyland and instead went to Sea World. I would love Shamu, but Goofy would never leave my mind. So all thorough this show I kept waiting for these folk to make good on their promise of investigating the Now. Here. This. Instead I got to know more about each of them, which may have been the point: learn about me and you learn about yourself. I suppose there is some truth in that.

This is such a fabulous group of performers that I wanted them to take the direct route into the center of Merton’s proposition. They are certainly capable of such a journey. Instead I got a guided tour of its suburbs, from which vantage point Now. Here. This. is nearly visible but remains unknown.

(Tulis McCall)


What the popular press said...

"Thin as a vanilla wafer but just as sweet."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"Fitfully fun new work."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"Too often grates where its predecessor [title of show] charmed."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"Individual pieces are fun and sometimes even moving ... but they fail to coalesce into a satisfying whole."
David Sheward for Back Stage

"While the performers are too sharp-witted not to provide amusing moments, the show suggests how tone-deaf people can become when they go on and on about themselves."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"The friendly inherent charm that the performers project ... compensates somewhat for the text’s meandering ways."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

"Is likable enough, and a couple of steps up from the quartet's cult-fave outing "[title of show]," but still doesn't quite deliver on its lofty aspirations."
Steven Suskin for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - Variety

Production Details
Venue: Vineyard Theatre
Genre: Musical
Previewed: 7 Mar 2012
Opened: 28 Mar 2012
Closed: 28 Apr 2012
Book: Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell
Music: Jeff Bowen
Lyrics: Jeff Bowen
Director: Michael Berresse
Choreographer: Michael Berresse
Cast: Hunter Bell, Susan Blackwell, Heidi Blickenstaff and Jeff Bowen.
Synopsis: Investigates and celebrates living in the present, featuring autobiographical stories, songs, and a multi-piece band. The show explores birds, bees, reptiles, early man, ancient civilizations, and outer space. Also, loneliness, friendship, hoarding, hiding, laughing, living and dying. And middle school. And dinosaurs.

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