The problems of four individuals amount to far more than a hill of beans in the hectic, melodious world of Ordinary Days by Adam Gwon, a chamber musical/song cycle of considerable wit and nearly commensurate charm currently getting a fine production at Round House Theatre in Bethesda.
Ordinary Days tells intimate stories, but it’s not an itsy-bitsy show. It pulls an audience into the tumultuous lives of four very different people, and it feels big: All four reside in Manhattan and we meet them as they struggle to figure out where, how, and with whom they fit into the hubbub.
Composer/lyricist Gwon gives his four characters 20 songs that are, for the most part, refreshingly unlike the pseudo-rock anthems in too many shows today. They include a lot of character-revealing, not-too-melodic recitative and bits of spoken dialogue to further plot and relationships, but then melt into lilting, lyrical melodies. Gwon’s style is definitely more art song than pop tune, but ease your way into Ordinary Days and you’ll find rewards both musical and emotional. Music director William Yanesh at a piano upstage provides all the accompaniment needed.
The four characters come in two sets—one a pleasantly ditzy duo destined to be best pals, the other a pair of thirtysomething lovers who can’t quite commit.
The ditzes are the most fun and the most interesting: Samuel Edgerly as Warren and Erin Weaver as Deb give utterly engaging comic and vocal turns, but with hints of depth that keep them from floating off on clouds of cute. Warren, an under-employed naif, hands out flyers and cat-sits for an artist who is currently in jail. It is Warren who expresses the kernel at the center of the show—that beauty lies in the smallest things: an apple in a still life, colored paper floating in the air, dabs of paint in a Monet, a new friend. The songs “Beautiful” and “Sort-of Fairy Tale” charmingly express Warren’s ideas, and Edgerly’s perfectly pitched delivery has just the right mix of whimsy and idealism.
Weaver’s Deb is a grad student who has trouble finding, let alone following, her bliss. The actress has a way with a patter song, which she proved in Signature Theatre’s “Company” as the panicked bride singing “Getting Married Today,” a performance that earned her a Helen Hayes Award. In “Ordinary Days,” her knack for panic also serves her well. Deb loses a notebook containing a draft of her thesis, and Weaver does great work with both the desperation in “Dear Professor Thompson” and the hysteria in “Calm.”
Warren finds Deb’s notebook and, believing in fate, e-mails her and arranges to meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Deb finds the place impossible to navigate and Warren annoyingly scatterbrained. Still, they connect. The clever song “Saturday at the Met,” about human tomato-tomahto contrasts, shows all four characters, but in separate duets.
The love story between Will Gartshore’s Jason and Janine Divita’s Claire proves a less satisfying thread, though it’s beautifully sung and subtly acted. The main problem is that Claire’s persona remains unrevealed for too long. Her secret tragedy comes up obliquely in “Let Things Go,” but not fully until the near the end with the heart-rending “I’ll Be Here,” and Divita delivers divinely. Jason adores Claire but can’t tell her, even though he has moved in with her, because she keeps him at such an emotional distance. Gartshore lends his warm tenor and acting chops to “Favorite Places,” about the beauty he seeks amid the city’s chaos, concluding that Claire’s heart is “one more favorite place I’ve never been.”
Director Matthew Gardiner moves everyone about the stage like New Yorkers jostling on a sidewalk; his choreography background is evident here, even without any dance.
Round House’s huge Bethesda stage is always a challenge for designers. Misha Kachman keeps it simple, and his set is fine: a fire escape/balcony toward the rear, where Warren can admire the cityscape and flutter out his colored paper; a central platform, flanked by a spare living room on one side and a coffee bar on the other, the exposed wings lined with battered newspaper vending machines. A backdrop of skyscrapers at night, their windows aglow, provides a fitting echo of the hearts aglow with possibilities in Ordinary Days.
Ordinary Days is at Round House Bethesda through June 29. Running time is about an hour and 25 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets ($20 to $45) are available online.