SINGING SISTERS Leah Cogan and Caroline Kaplan in Baz & Me.
There's a lot of attention focused on this year's Brown/Trinity Playwrights Rep trio of summer plays now that the creative hatchery has had such a remarkable record. Two plays developed there — Peter Nachtrieb's boom and Stephen Karam's Speech & Debate — ranked first and second last year as those most frequently produced on professional stages across the country (not counting holiday productions).
BAZ & ME, by Nate Sloan, Andrew Hertz, and Lowry Marshall | Directed by Lowry Marshall | July 31 8 pm
The proving ground is busy again in 2010. There's a musical that puts a forgiving spin on the age-old theme of the arrogance of youth; people exercising their dogs is the setting for their owners' revealing far less disciplined lives; and an empty office is a metaphor for writer's block as a playwright examines his relationship with his father.
Basing a musical on Turgenev's lugubrious Fathers and Sons might seem like a suicidal mission — for the audience as well — but this enterprise is nothing less than the theatrical delight of the season. Back from a college summer abroad in Russia, Baz (Julian Cihi) and Ari (Ricky Oliver) are now styling themselves "neo-Nihilists." Baz is no longer to be called Billy Bazarov, he insists even to his beatifically supportive mother, Rina (Mary C. Davis). The cheerfully innocent Ari mainly regrets not having gotten as much romantic action as his friend in St. Petersburg. But they are not bad sorts, like their morally defective novelistic counterparts, just young and immature.
Far more arrogant than his friend is Baz, the implicit source largely being his scholastic genius and consequent sense of superiority. Ari calls him a sore loser, and a potential love interest later calls him an asshole, though she admits that she's drawn to assholes. Cihi redeems what could be dreary company by leavening the personality with occasional enthusiasm, especially in songs. In "St. Petersburg," Baz and Ari reminisce fondly. That's followed by "Maybe Tonight," in which they are joined by the separately singing Anna (Leah Cogan) and Kat (Caroline Kaplan), all of them hoping that a party that evening will deliver badly needed human connection.
The two young women, sisters, are in the East Hampton house next door, the first an inexperienced 19-year-old and the other an already jaded young divorcee. You can easily guess how the match-up will end up, but not before serious mismatches are imminent. And let's not forget another fascinating couple in the story, Ari's divorced father Nick (Mark Cohen), an art gallery owner, and his new lover, Fedya (Per Janson), a Russian art expert.
The love stories are convincing as well as conventional, so they don't detract from what makes this musical terrific: the songs. "She Is Not the Rain," sung by Baz, has the intelligence and punch of a poem without being pretentious. "Where's My Boy?," by Rina, could also be sentimental, being about the inevitable loss of the parental bond, but instead is gracefully touching. And I don't know if I've ever heard a song more perfect for an Act One closer: "Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam!" raises the emotional energy to a peak, as five characters fulminate about why they are leaving their lover and the room, and Nick is left in the echoing silence before the blackout. Form, meet function, and kick butt. Brilliant. I'd love to buy the soundtrack.
DRAMA UNLEASHED Connie Crawford, Will Shaw and Annie Worden in Dog Park.
DOG PARK, by Paul Grellong | Directed by Michael Perlman | July 30 8 pm + July 31 1 pm.