The Gathering Room
nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
August 15, 2004
The Gathering Room, a new musical based on the novel of the same name by Colby Rodowsky, is one of the FringeNYC offerings at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University. The book is a collaborative effort among Valerie Kingston, Becca Bandiere, and Janice Goldberg, who also directs. The music is by Bandiere and Jimmy Flynn.
The audience is greeted with an especially evocative sound design and an arrangement of five very individual chairs, each which you just know will have its own story. As the show begins we learn that the chairs are each associated with a certain spirit who inhabits the environs around the gathering room. The room itself is part of a Gatehouse on the grounds of the Edgemont Cemetery. The corporal inhabitants of the Gatehouse consist of a mother, Serena, her husband Ned, and their child Mudge. During the course of the performance we learn why the family has taken refuge in the Gatehouse for the past three years, why Mudge has taken to cavorting with his ghost-friends, and what it takes for the family to get out and on with Life.
Dramaturgically, there is a major problem here: we do not receive sufficient expository information about the foregoing to keep us interested. It isn’t until the very end of the play that we learn the answers to these questions. And by the end, I mean literally during the finale, in which the authors have tacked on a flashback device to explain everything. The lack of information is annoying—we are not told enough about the characters during the first three fourths of the play to make us care about them.
This production has not as yet found its musical voice. At times the style is 1990s Broadway, with lots of sung prose. Sometimes it is operatic, with recitatives. One number, “Reporter Tango,” is a typical American musical comic duo number—it is well-choreographed, very well-executed, and entertaining. But it’s the only one I liked.
The cast is as a whole very good, with standout performances by Dashiell Katz as Mudge, Kevin T. Collins as Jenkins/Jack Fogarty, and Mary Ann Conk as Frieda/Mrs. Lovejoy.
The subject matter, coping with grief, is full of possibilities. The material just doesn’t achieve the aspirations of the authors. Perhaps there are too many authors’ voices? Too many ideas?