Once, Book by Enda Walsh, Music and Lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. Directed by Michael Berresse. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Adam Huel Potter, Julie Benko, Jacob Brandt, Sam Weber, Fred Rose; photo: Hubert Schriebl
"Leaving unfinished love behind."
Douglas Goodheart, Dorothy Stanley, Bristol Pomeroy; photo: Hubert Schriebl
Folk traditions are the same country to country. Tales told are tales understood and the music comes from the gut, a visceral experience to be sure. In the musical, "Once," based closely on the independent film of the same name, the tale told can only told with music for music is at its core. This is a love story of two people in love with two other people. This Girl and this Guy come together for a five-day period that seriously changes each of their lives, and then they do what young people in love always seem to do. It's not what you think, though, for that would fail the tenets of folk stories and folk music. They do, instead, what they understand must be done.
This semi-bittersweet rendition of the effect that love has on music and music on love is played to perfection on the stage at the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Vermont. A cast of thirteen players, each one musically adept, play citizens of Dublin, Ireland where the story takes place, play several musical instruments each, play out the love story at the heart of it all. There is a girl, a Czech refugee with a daughter and a mother and an M.I.A. lover who has fathered her child. There is a guy, lonely without the Irish girl he adores who has moved away to New York City. While he is in despair over his loss, she is feisty and a "take-no-prisoners" sort who feels no compunction about invading another person's space. These two are destined to come together, fall for each other and change-up the way they lead their lives. With the help of eleven other folks that is what happens.
Dorothy Stanley is wonderful in the brief role of Baruska, the Girl's mother. She is even better changing the set and playing seven different instruments (I think it was seven).Czech or Irish she fits into the picture perfectly. Adam Huel Potter as Billy, the man with the instrument store, is ingratiating and exasperating sometimes simultaneously. He is an Irish bigot, despising men from other counties than his own. He is also an endearing friend and supporter. He claims almost as much time in the limelight as the two protagonists.
Bristol Pomeroy gives a delicate poignancy to Da, the Guy's father who has a lovely little scene with The Girl about his son. Fred Rose plays the bank manager with a certain grim angst that is transformed with a guitar into the silliest, and worst, musical moment in the show and he proves himself to be an excellent cellist as the show progresses. He's also sexually surprising. Gina Doyle proves to be sexually alluring as Reza.
The actors playing the Girl and the Guy should be the make or break factors in this show, but curiously they are not. In this edition they are played by Julie Benko (Czech Girl) and Brad Standley (Irish Guy), both of whom are so good that it is hard to imagine anyone else playing them. Benko is gruff and strong and fascinated by the man she has met. Standley is morose and melancholy and equally gruff in a different way. From the second scene they play together they seem destined to couple up and be a pair. Songwriters they become and producers they become. In only five days their evolution on the road to success becomes a total reality and more than just the professional things have changed.These two actors play the romance with such richness that it feels as though more time, much more time, has gone by. She is consistently the "ambassador of honesty" and he the Hoover sucking man though their friendship awakes in her the latent possibility of moving on with her life while he learns that one love in a lifetime isn't the way things work and that each love is different from all the rest.
This joyful event has been directed expertly by Michael Berresse and he has had expert help from his fine design team: Meredith Ries designed the sets, Leon Dubrowski has designed the costumes; Seth Reiser has done dynamic and effective things with his lighting.
Joyful is truly the word for this show. Not always happy, not often sad, this ensemble show takes us on a journey through the gentle rolling hills of Ireland from the city to the seashore, from one day to the next. Its songs are effective and if you get to the theater early you can join the cast on stage fo a song, a ginger beer or an O'Douls and sing and dance along.The two hour and twelve minute show is augmented to more than three hours of performing for these people and they do it with unbounded happiness dripping from their tongues. This is a show you can really get into. I did at the final preview and if it was this much fun then, for me, imagine how delighted you may be when you partake of this offering.
ONCE plays at the Weston Playhouse Main Stage, on the Village Green in Weston, Vermont through July 15. For tickets and information contact the box office at 802-824-5288 or go on line at westonplayhouse.org.