Friday, July 17, 2015

"Triangle"


Triangle
Curtis Moore (Music); Thomas Mizer (Lyrics)
Thomas Mizer, Curtis Moore & Joshua Scher (Book)


“Say a name, and you can never forget.
Say a name, and it’s not over yet.
Maybe no one’s ever gone.”

Hauntingly, beautifully sung in the opening moments as audience has barely settled into their seats, these lyrics by Thomas Mizer set to the music of Curtis Moore initiate a captivating, stellar evening for the world premiere of Triangle at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley that will later bring that same audience to its feet in sustained, heartfelt, final applause and appreciation.  Undertaking to bring a new musical to the stage is a risky, expensive venture and one shunned by many companies.  However, with the creative team of Mizer and Moore (along with Joshua Scher as co-writer of the book), the sensitive and smooth direction of Meredith McDonough, and the jaw-dropping talents of the cast assembled by Leslie Martinson, there is little doubt but that the then-in-workshop hit of TheatreWorks’ New Works Festival three years ago will now become a full-fledged theatrical hit on this and surely many more stages to come.

Alternating back and forth a century between 1911 and 2011, Triangle revisits and remembers a tragic fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory as a modern day, young scientist (Brian) furtively undertakes to discover the still unknown identities of two lovers who jump together from what is now his office window to escape the engulfing flames that killed them and 144 other, mostly women, immigrant workers.  Powerful portraits of both the past and present people whose lives become intertwined in either the weeks leading up to this horrific conflagration or in the weeks following its centennial memorial are painted on the staged canvas before us.  Incessant drives to succeed against many odds; shimmering, new loves that are at first forbidding and frightening; family voices and pulls both present and from the grave, and self-discoveries that emerge from purging self of immense guilt link the characters of our two centuries into a bond that grows so strong that miracles of meeting occur.  Parallels -- both outwardly obvious and inwardly hidden -- between March 22, 2011 and September 11, 2001 must be confronted by Brian before he can resolve his mystery and a lingering misery.  In the end, out of fiery destruction, out of untold sadness, out of names no longer going unsaid, much hope and renewal emerges.

As the doctoral candidate and researcher Brian, Ross Lekites creates a troubled soul who embodies a stubborn determination, a lonely spirit, and a caring heart in ways that make us just want to know him and hug him.  When he sings in solo about his older sister and hero “Jenni,” about a feeling called “Love” for a newly met boy, or in desperate plea of “Save Me Now” (with a “me” that might be sister Jenni, the unnamed girl from 1911, or even himself), Mr. Lekites sings in tones that are astonishingly clear, emotionally packed, and gorgeously intonated.  His three duets with Ben (Zachary Prince), the guy who literally falls into his life to ignite a series of searches and discoveries that lead to his dealing with suppressed feelings of guilt and love, are soul-searching as well as soaring with both men singing in chords that strike deep and long. 

Zachary Prince trips with ease between the two centuries and between two loves, Brian in 2011 and the sweet yet daring Sarah (Megan McGinnis) of 1911.  To both eras he invites moments of needed laughter from an audience caught up in the otherwise serious stories before them.  His Ben is a bit impish, pushy and persistent in charm, and able to pop up at such odd moments in funny ways – leading to Brian’s colleague Cynthia (Sharon Rietkerk) to refer to him as “Sparkles,” “The Ghost Whisperer,” and “Casper.”  His 1911 Vincenzo, a young supervisor who falls in love with the immigrant Sarah, has a funny, yet touching prayerful conversation with “Mr. Jahweh” (the Jewish name for God), asking for his blessing and guidance in a forbidden love between a goy and a Jew (“If you share your daughter’s life, I’ll give her mine”).  In breath-taking, angelic falsetto, he softly declares repeatedly to God and to himself, “I love her.”  His ease of switch between Ben and Vincenzo is dramatically played out in the moving Act One finale as his both halves sing gloriously with Brian and with Sarah, “Take My Hand.”

As Sarah the seamstress and as Brian’s dream of Jenni, Megan McGinnis shows determination to strike out in new directions, uncharted for both her families.  Both her Sarah and her Jenni appear in dreams to guide Brian to his needed resolutions; and Ms. McGinnis’s haunting, yet very real presence allow us to accept her mystical selves with belief and trust.  She navigates as Sarah a fine line between deep devotion to tradition and family demands and the need and eagerness to assimilate into her excitingly new America.  She sings, “I should follow the rules, but which ones,” as she navigates her slippery journey between her new and old world lives.

As Brian’s colleague Cynthia and Sarah’s sister Chaya, Sharon Rietkerk, like Ben, brings some welcomes comic relief.  Cynthia teases, prods, and pushes Brian toward the love he will not face (and literally hides under the table to avoid).  Chaya shows Sarah the bright ornament (with a picture of a baby on it) and small tree she bought at Woolworths, explaining, “God provided me the finest pine.  It’s not Christian; it’s festive.”  Ms. Rietkerk too brings in song beautiful, soul touching notes to life, as in her “Just a Little More.”

Laura D’Andre and Rolf Saxon round out this remarkable cast, joining in ensemble numbers that are near perfect in harmony, dynamics, and delivery.  The 7-piece orchestra, under the able direction of James Sampliner, explores in instrument variations and presentation the cadences of the two eras.  And assuring the overall, desired effects is a set designed by Daniel Zimmerman that moves with stunning agility and beauty between the two centuries with sliding windows, walls, and building facades that add to, not detract from, the unfolding story. 

Eerily, there are faint wisps of smoke throughout the play outside the windows of this ninth floor now-office, now-factory.  The memory of loss and disaster is always there but never takes the spotlight from the songs and stories of people we now know and will never forget.  
Triangle is a truly a triumph for TheatreWorks, for its creators, and for us as audience.

Rating:  5 E’s

Triangle by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley will continue at the Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto, through August 2, 2015.   

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