I had a friend e-mail me about going to Urban Stages to see Inner Voices, which is a project I'd never heard of before. Then another friend told me about how much he had enjoyed seeing the 2010 version! I considered this rather fate-like and therefore decided I must go. Besides, one of the pieces was written by Polly Pen and I've always wanted to hear her work sung live, AND one of the pieces starred Hunter Foster, who is one of my uber-faves. If I had a Magic 8 ball, it would say "all signs point to yes." :)After reading the program, I discovered that Paulette Haupt started Inner Voices after seeing Alan Bennett's Talking Heads, thinking that one person expressing their innermost thoughts through music would be a worthwhile endeavor. After seeing Inner Voices, I have to agree with her. This is the third time she's put it together and I will be very interested in seeing how it evolves.
Three one-act solo musicals are put together to make up Inner Voices. First up was Hunter Foster in "Borrowed Dust." Unfortunately, I found this the weakest of the three pieces. I just didn't feel the musical came together cohesively - the songs were sort of a mishmash, and the flashbacks inside of flashbacks were a tad confusing. But Hunter Foster was, of course, terrific as a grieving brother. He sang beautifully and presented a fully realized study of grief. I just wish I could've connected more. A couple of the 'revelations' in the piece didn't seem like revelations at all and struck me as extraneous, though I will say that I heard one woman behind me catch her breath and sob at one point. So maybe I just wasn't moved by it, which is unlucky for me. I'm always looking for a good cry.
Though I did have a nice cry during the second piece, "Arlington," with music by Polly Pen. Full disclosure, I know Polly a little bit. I helped put together a little tribute to her a few years ago, so I downloaded Bed and Sofa and Goblin Market and was really intrigued by both. But this is the first piece of hers I've experienced live. And I really liked it. To me, this was the most successful in integrating music, subject, character and actor. It all seemed to flow organically and presented a complete picture of a woman. The music she was singing sounded as if ONLY she should be singing it, which was amazing. Alexandra Silber was terrific as a woman left behind after her husband went to war. She changes subtly throughout the piece and you see how her loneliness is affecting her - her music changes and her vocal quality even changes. And the way she used her hands was intriguing. I found the whole thing quite moving, and could easily see a whole evening with just this character and this music, though I should also commend Victor Lodato's book and lyrics.
The third piece was "Farhad," which I found intriguing in its subject matter and characterization, but the music had a sameness that kept me from fully engaging. Arielle Jacobs plays a young girl whose parents have forced her to dress, and live, as a boy for about twelve years, but now she is being forced to return to living as a girl because of an arranged marriage. Clearly, this is a provocative topic and I would be interested in seeing a more developed piece about it. But in this shortened format, I felt like her internal exploration just came to a halt without taking me all the way there. Partially from the constraint of a half-hour musical and partially because of the similarity of the songs. Jacobs performs them all convincingly, and I was touched by the thought of this girl, after having known the freedoms of living as a boy, having to return to the constraints of living as a woman. And the final image, of her stepping out of the familiar and into the unknown, was haunting. I just felt vaguely dissatisfied when it was finished, as if I didn't get inside as deeply as I wanted to.
All three pieces are simply staged in the very small Urban Stages space, but the tiny black box is well used, with effective lighting and use of minimal set pieces and props. Each piece had their own pianist, and one augmented with a cello, and one with percussion and strings. The accompaniment was terrific for each and you could tell the care the music director had put into making sure each team's vision was executed. I wish I hadn't waited so long to see Inner Voices (it closes this weekend), because I would be interested in seeing it again to catch nuances I missed before, and to maybe connect more to the first and third pieces. If you have time this weekend, you should head to Urban Stages and point out what I missed...