By C. Davis Remignanti
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA, 5 FEBRUARY 2010 It should work. It
almost does. But Whisper House, which is in its world premiere
run at San Diegos Old Globe Theatre, is in need of significant
On paper, at least, Whisper House, the new musical
collaboration from Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Kyle
Jarrow (A Very Merry Unauthorized Childrens Scientology
Pageant), has all the ingredients for a fascinating and fulfilling
evening of theater.
Three storm-tossed individuals a man, a woman and a child are
thrown together by happenstance, setting up a nice piece of dramaturgical
tension over whether the unlikely trio can form a family unit, finding
solace and fulfillment in each others company. Place them in an eerily
gothic setting, then toss in the presence of a couple of grudge-holding
ghosts, intent on spoiling everyones chances for happiness. Finally, wrap
the entire story in an unusual theatrical form one where the mortals do
all the talking and the ghosts do all the singing.
Michael Schweikardts set for Whisper
Photo courtesy of The Old Globe
The problem is that the two threads dramatic and musical are not
intertwining gracefully. Everything about the evenings presentation is
period (early in World War II) except the music which, even though lovely,
is decidedly contemporary. The effect is rather like flipping channels
between two television programs spending a few minutes watching a
classic film on AMC, then dashing over to MTV for some music, then back to
the movie, etc
What is perhaps the evenings most ear-worm-worthy tune
("The Tale of Solomon Snell") is awkwardly shoe-horned into the
proceedings and, while a fun diversion, serves mostly to grind the story
to a four-minute halt.
The stylistic time-shifting is a worthy conceit, one that served Mr.
Sheik well in his fantastically popular Spring Awakening. But
here its not fully cooked, and Whisper House needs the hand of a
brave and ruthless master chef who can make the possibly-painful decisions
required to allow the disparate flavors to blend into a savory whole.
Emmy Award winner Mare Winningham is pitch- and picture-perfect as Miss
Lilly, but she deserves the opportunity to show the cracks in her
characters curmudgeonly veneer, a chance not afforded her with the
current script and direction. (Unfortunate news: Ms. Winningham is leaving
the production two weeks into its run, citing "scheduling conflicts."
Hmmm.) Arthur Acuña gives a fine performance as Yasuhiro, but he seems
miscast physically distractingly youthful and, frankly, buff which
serves to strain even a willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to
the tender feelings that sprout between his character and Lilly.
(Clever costuming would go a long way toward correcting that oversight.)
The pivotal role of young Christopher will always be a challenge to cast,
as the script, the story, indeed the entire evening hinges on a child
actor with dramatic skills far in advance of his years.
Arthur Acuña and Mare Winningham in Whisper House
courtesy of The Old Globe Theatre
The two un-named ghosts, as currently presented, are meant to be
menacing (they sing: "Were here to tell you / Ghosts are here for good /
If this doesnt terrify you / It should. It should.") but, in fact, they
are creepy only in the way Michael Keatons Beetlejuice was
odd, yes, but all-in-all, kind of entertaining and fun to have around.
Certainly not the kind of ghosts that could plausibly encourage a little
boy to consider killing himself. In the fuzzily-conceived roles, David Poe
and Holly Brook show theyve got the musical chops, but in the end, the
ghosts are just too darn likeable.
Michael Schweikardts beautiful and evocative set is under-served by
Matthew Richards lighting just because the dramatic mood is dark
doesnt mean essential pieces of stage business should take place in
Finally, the evening seems a bit brief the intermission-less
performance clocks in at just over 90 minutes and, if the exasperated
sighs of the audience members around me are any indication, the end is
abrupt and unsatisfying. The proceedings could easily sustain an
additional 20 - 25 minutes, precious opportunity to let the characters and
story develop a more fully realized depth of flavor.
Whisper House is a worthy evening out, but for the wrong
reasons: either because it affords the audience member a chance to see
what could become the next great thing in an early and un-refined state,
or because it might be your only opportunity to witness what may prove to
be nothing more than an asterisk in the history of musical theater.
Through 21 February 2010
The Old Globe Theatre
San Diego, CA 92101-1696
Tel: (1) 619 234 56 23
C. Davis Remignanti writes on design and the visual and
decorative arts for Culturekiosque.com. He last wrote on The Johnny
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