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Review: Witty, Spotty ‘Brain’ Plays in Ex

By Alexandra D. Hoffer, Crimson Staff Writer

A New Brain

Loeb Ex, December 3-6

Directed by Adam R. Perlman ’04

Produced by Brandon C. Presser ’05 and Jennifer Y. Seo ’04

A New Brain, which ran this weekend in the Loeb Ex, is a decidedly quirky musical. William Finn’s semi-autobiographical play tells the story of Gordon Schwinn (Christopher B. Moffo ’04), a composer wasting his life writing songs for Mr. Bungee’s Fungee Bungee Show, a Barney-esque TV program starring a giant frog. At a lunch meeting, Gordon keels over into his ziti and is rushed to the hospital, where he is diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage. The rest of the play takes place primarily in the hospital, where Gordon, his mother and his boyfriend prepare themselves for Gordon’s likely death.

For A New Brain, the normally black Ex floor was painted with green tiled squares, adding a froggy atmosphere. Colorful squiggly clocks and abstract shapes were stuck to the walls, and the word “Yes” hung in the back of the theater. A shiny pink platform formed a staircase on the right rear of the stage, a curtain hung on the left, and there was a projection screen near the front. A New Brain’s staging may not have been elaborate, but it was vibrant and innovative.

Robert A. Hodgson ’05, as Mr. Bungee, stole the show—but the fact that he was playing a guy in a frog suit may have guaranteed that. Hodgson was completely convincing as the tap-dancing and smarmily upbeat amphibian. His frog costume, well-designed by Bethany L. Hoag ’06, was another show highlight, featuring a large fake head, green gloves and tights, and a large colorful tie. Moffo’s Gordon was nervous, weepy and dubiously happy; he also had a touching chemistry with his boyfriend Roger, played by Ryan C. Steinman; the first time they kissed, the audience let out a collective “awww.” Margaret S. Lehrman ’04 played Gordon’s mother with a mixture of hope and frenetic fear—she’s the sort of person who responds to peril by pouring herself into house-cleaning.

All the cast members were capable actors as well as singers, although this wasn’t a show to see for virtuoso vocal performances. The musical could be accurately termed an opera; there isn’t a line of dialogue in it, and barely any recitative. The music leaps from song to song like Gordon’s frog leaps between lily pads. Moreover, the music is more often depressing and hostile than it is feel-good or even likeable; in the song “In the Middle of the Room,” for example, Gordon sings how he wishes someone would kill him, while his mother stands in the middle of the road waiting for a car to run her over. Only a few songs are really memorable, among them “Heart and Music,” “Gordo’s Law of Genetics,” “Sitting Becalmed in the Lee in Cuttyhunk.” The show’s lyrics, on the other hand, are outstandingly funny and clever; Mr. Bungee and his Mouseketeer-like companions sing a cheerful “Yes Song” about how you should always say “yes I can” or “yes I will” except when asked to “lose your virginity” by “someone with whom you have no affinity.” The choreography, by Katharine F. O’Brien ’04, was uneven; Gordon and Roger had a dashing tango, and Bungee’s dances brought out his ingratiating cheer, but much of the time the singers just stood around or aimlessly rushed back and forth.

Such unevenness pervaded A New Brain. Its songs are often unappealing, its plotting is sometimes weak (there’s an irrelevant subplot involving a homeless woman), and its staging was often static. But at the same time, this was a fittingly creative, moving and fun rendition of a unique musical. It was worth seeing for its sheer novelty and wit.

—Crimson Arts Critic Alexandra D. Hoffer can be reached at hoffer@fas.harvard.edu.

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