Friday, September 25, 2015

"Moments of Truth"

Moments of Truth
Patricia Milton (Book); Caroline Altman (Music & Lyrics)

Danielle Thys, Tyler McKenna, Bekka Fink & Douglas Giorgis
In a living room setting with studio to the side where walls are adorned with numerous abstract paintings in washed-out colors, our eyes cannot help but go to schlocky portrait of a smiling cow with big ears and soulful eyes.  In their world premiere chamber musical, Moments of Truth, Patricia Milton and Caroline Altman use this same cow as the near-breaking point for an artist facing a crisis of confidence in her creative pursuits and in her marriage.  Thus will begin at 3 Girls Theatre an artist’s journey searching for what is next -- a trip marked by confronting old and new doubts, exploring what was once at the heart of former artistic inspiration, and testing new waters to find former anchors. 

After Nan Browne’s art broker husband Gerald has set up a show of cow paintings in juxtaposition to her abstract landscapes at which all cows and no landscapes are sold, Nan is fast retreating from her studio to domestic scrap booking and bread-making.  As she humorously yet sadly sings in her opening “Fallen,” “Round me up and brand me; I’ve been mooed.”  No matter the prodding of Gerald, she is unable to pick up a brush, singing,
“I can’t find the proper view. 
Where is the picture? 
I can’t paint this.
I can’t paint.” 

Bekka Fink, Danielle Thys & Tyler McKenna
A knock at the door brings the surprise entrance of a former art school roommate, brassy and brazen Chloe, who has just faced a foreign country deportation for a gallery show of some shocking, disturbing photograph.  (This is the same Chloe who was arrested for lap dancing naked on Lincoln’s gigantic lap in D.C.).  Her appearance opens up a Pandora’s box of rivalry and suspicion involving the two women and their once-mutually desired Gerald, whom Chloe immediately eyes with lust and claws with fingers that roam.  But Gerald sees in Chloe’s surprise intrusion a chance to reignite Nan’s artistic pursuits by manipulating events for her to join photographer Chloe in a bizarre art project.   The ploy is to catch on film and canvas unsuspecting ‘victims’ in a moment of truth telling about something they have not admitted out loud, all using a new-fangled lie detector that Chloe has brought with her.  Amidst all the drama playing out on the stage, much comedy abounds for us as audience as we begin to watch this art project unfold and a triangle of lovers – past, present and maybe future – go at it.

Bekka Fink intensely brings the artist-in-crisis to life before us.  Her Nan searches desperately for the sparks she knows she once had, in both her art and in her marriage.  In “Moment of Truth,” she plaintively sings in a voice full of edge bordering on shrill,
“What can transfer lies into truth? 
Something is breaking, tearing apart? 
I can’t make it pretty anymore.” 
Later, when jealousy and anger with Chloe peaks, her reddened face, popping veins in neck, and eyes that shoot bullets bring us to the edge of our seats.  But when she does finally find renewed comfort in the arms of Gerald and in her own art, Ms. Fink also brightens with a glow that permeates her whole being as she sings, “The prize means finding out what you had before.”

Danielle Thys is Nan’s nemesis and would-be creative partner, Chloe, who walks a fine line between wench, witch, and wonder woman.  Her smiles always seem to have behind them a purpose all her own, and any statement she makes has a possible lie written all over it in the shift of her eyes, the quick toss of her head, or the smugness of her twisted smirk.  She is terrific in being sexy and sinister, sweet and suspicious – and doing all that in ways repeatedly to draw laughter from us as audience.

Gerald wavers between his sincerity to help his wife out of her funk and his drive to sell more art from whomever he can represent, even if it means possibly deceiving Nan herself.  In his black-framed glasses and totally wholesome handsomeness, Tyler McKenna brings a Clark Kent look to his Gerald while also coming ever closer to succumbing to Chloe’s slithering body and caresses.  His rich, clear voice reminisces sweetly about a picture of young Nan’s that drew him initially to her (“Pink Bedroom”), but he also sexily duets with Chloe in a dangerous-to-his-marriage tango, “If You Hadn’t Married Her.”

Time and again, however, it is Douglas Giorgis who comes close to stealing the show and drawing the most laughs as he plays multiple visitors to the Browne apartment/studio.  He opens and closes the show as a rather silly, jet-set art collector, gullible to a fast-talking dealer like Gerald.  He also appears at the door as a number of oddities from Nan’s neighborhood that get sucked into lying in front of Chloe’s camera (including a wonderfully goofy grocery bagger, a prim and proper – or not – priest, and a wild homeless man in rain slicker).  At each entrance, Mr. Giorgis brings flurry and fun to the story and stage.

While Caroline Altman’s music and lyrics often capture the heart of the dilemmas facing Nan and the essence of the motives and drives of the other characters’ surrounding her struggles, it is the book of Patricia Milton that really shines in this new musical.  Coupled with excellent timing of direction of Louis Parnell, the dialogues and interactions are packed with both comedic gems and soul-touching probes and confrontations.  This is a musical that could very easily, and maybe even more effectively, be a play.   The story tends to shine best when the music is more background, even though the actors and Music Director Scrumbly Koldewyn do a good, solid job of bringing score and songs to bear.   A little more attention to filling in the book could also help an ending that comes to resolution a bit too easily, given all the emotions and betrayals that have preceded it.

All in all, Moments of Truth is a worthy new creation that leads us each to contemplate those times in our lives when we have lost confidence in the innate strengths of our abilities and/or relationships.  The new musical also joins a long line of works focusing on the making of art and its effects on the lives around that act; and in my book, those works are usually well worth the night out.

Rating: 4 E’s

Produced by 3 Girls Theatre, Moments of Truth continues at Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street, San Francisco, through October 18, 2015.  Tickets are available at or by calling 415-527-0301.

Photos by Jim Norrena

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