In line with Tarragon Theatre‘s theme for it 2013/2014 season– “Love, Loss, Wine and the Gods”—the company is currently presenting two one-act plays that document the journey of two very different romantic relationships. The first, in the Tarragon Extra Space, is Duncan MacMillan’s brilliant Lungs, which receives an equally brilliant production from director Weyni Mengesha and actors Lesley Faulkner and Brendan Gall. Lungs is a touching and entertaining portrayal of a couple in love—but above all, it’s honest. It’s that honesty that the show next door in the Tarragon Mainspace, Stephen Sondheim’s song cycle Marry Me a Little, is lacking.
Made up of unused tunes or songs from his lesser-known musicals, this Sondheim revue was first created in 1980 by Craig Lucas and Norman René. In the original version, a man and a woman sang through the song cycle separately—on the same stage but not interacting. At Tarragon, director Adam Brazier has brought these two people together into the same story, linking the songs together to mirror their changing relationship. We first see the male character, played by Adrian Marchuk, solemnly sulking around Ken MacDonald’s attractive set—a largely unkempt loft-style apartment (large factory windows, a pull-out couch as their bed, fridge full of beer: yep, that’s an artist’s apartment)—before plopping down at his piano to play some sad notes. As he laments a breakup, the female character, played by Elodie Gillet, busts in with a bottle of wine, a suitcase, and a plant. She’s new to the city. Their song is a funny one, about being single in a big city and the pain of going out and mingling. Obviously these two are introverts, which is perhaps why, after they get together through collaborating on a musical that Marchuk’s character is writing, they don’t seem ever to leave the apartment again.
Once they have their first date involving Chinese take-out on the living-room floor, the story Brazier endeavours to tell begins to fall flat. In their attempts to tell a story that wasn’t there originally, and with only the song lyrics for dialogue, Marchuk and Gillet’s performances err on the side of campy. After the honeymoon phase is over, Marchuk has a constantly furrowed brow—either his music isn’t going his way, or his girl isn’t. But at least he has some kind of distraction, and something approximating an occupation: Gillet appears to be a singer at first, but once she’s in a relationship, her entire focus shifts to her partner, and her desire for marriage ultimately drives him away. What a progressive portrayal of a modern young woman!
Some songs don’t always seem to suit the story. “Uptown, Downtown,” in particular, feels out of place narratively. It’s supposed to be one of Marchuk’s compositions, and Gillet interprets it as a negative comment about her—but using this song’s lyrics as a catalyst for a fight is a bit of a stretch.
Despite the fact that this quick 75-minute show has these two performers flitting back and forth on the stage doing various household tasks, it feels stagnant. When the end of their romance does come, it feels like it was a much longer time coming. In hindsight, they should have just made the effort and gone to mingle at a bar.