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directed by Marc Talusan
at The Agassiz Theater
Marc Talusan's new production of Falsettos is relevant, witty, and irresistibly fresh. From the opening number, with its refrain "four Jews in a room bitching," this Broadway musical is smart, not sappy. Talusan's cast handles the timely subject matter--ranging from homosexual parenting to the traumas of little league--with confidence and enthusiasm, and the whole production is winningly strong.
The plot of Falsettos revolves around Marvin (Brad Rouse), a middle aged gay man who is unwilling to sacrifice his dream of a close-knit family, no matter what the wishes of that 'family' might be. He brings together his frantic ex-wife Trina (Leslie Yahia), antisocial son Jason (Chris Terrio), and vain lover Whizzer (Michael Stone) all under one roof. Marvin's hapless efforts to fit all the pieces of his life together provide the comic energy of the first half. Flung into this house of neurotics is also Martin's less-than-stable psychiatrist, Mendel (Reese Snow), who is immediately love-struck for Trina.
Watching these quirky characters play off each others is hysterical. Rouse and Stone portray shallow, self-centered lovers who "kinda sorta" love each other but definitely love the sex. The chemistry between them is delicious. Each of these actors holds their own, with Rouse evoking that special mix of charm and egotism which makes his character so irresistible, and Stone winning the hearts of the audience for his earnestly superficial Whizzer.
Yahia's portrait of a woman trying to handle her sweet but selfish ex, weirdly morbid son, and suspiciously amorous psychiatrist, is exuberantly crazy. When she belts out lines like "the only thing that's breaking up is my family...me, I'm breaking down," you believe it. Yahia has a compelling presence and strong voice which underscore the inner strenght of Trina. Trina doesn't break down; she survives.
Snow's Mendel is at first deceptively normal, with his friendly voice and yellow cardigan, but a psychiatrist whose idea of therapy is to leap up, click his heels together, and exhort everyone to "feel alright for the rest of your life" cannot be the most conventional of physicians.
Chris Terrio is effortlessly convincing as the prepubescent Jason. Terrio's body language, facial expressions, even unkempt hair are so appropriate to the character that it is impossible to convince yourself that he is not actually twelve years old. His Jason is not overly cute or naive, but rather aware, sarcastic, and capable of a deadpan humor to match the rest of the cast.
The madcap emotional fumbling of the first act gives way to a more serious, slightly more disillusioned second act. Two years have passed; Trina and Mendel are married; Whizzer and Martin have broken up; and the "lesbians from next door" are always running in and out. It is the year of Jason's Bar Mitzvah, and the characters all seem to hope that this one pivotal event will smooth over their unstable lives. Whizzer, however, shows up again, complicating everything by getting back together with Martin, aggravating Trina, and, finally, falling mysteriously ill.
The second act, dealing with more serious topics, is not so joke-filled as the first, but its satire of the Eighties is bitingly funny. Mendel most openly condemns the new decade: "half my patients/yuppie pagans/modeled on this/Ronald Reagan" Yet he and Trina seem to be living quite the yuppified Laura-Ashley-decorated lifestyle. In this act, real love develops between Whizzer and Martin, as does some of the loveliest music of the show. In these quiet, poignant moments, the cast's talent for handling emotion with delicacy and without melodrama and their collective vocal strength, is most clearly showcased.
The sophistication, humor, and heart of Falsettos is a triumph for Talusan and his cast. This production proves that musical theater does not have to be sappy or cliched. The show highlights the modern problems of entirely modern love. The book is innovative and engaging, and the music, played by a "teeny tiny band" behind a raised scrim, is complicated and intriguing. Talusan's Falsettos is one of the strongest productions on the Harvard stages this year.
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