I know it’s a hard day to talk about a theatrical production that just opened at the Boston Opera House. My heart is filled with outrage, and sorrow, and the need to DO something about the killing of Black Americans and White Police Officers. The show I will write about must go on, and though it’s not perfect, I think you should see it. The title IF/THEN is pregnant with possibilities– the possibilities open to all of us all the time, possibilities and choices. I will limit my comments here to the show. But soon will embark upon a post reflecting my views as a woman with two white police officers, Chiefs of Police, in her family, and how they and I see the country and the divisive issues that have once again splattered themselves across our landscape, interior and exterior, in the last 72 hours.
IF /THEN has just opened for a brief run at the Opera House and I LOVE its premise– that the little decisions we make in our lives affect everything going forward and wildly different outcomes are possible, even while positing that everything is possible– so be careful what you choose. IF/THEN flirts with infinite possibilities and explores two “what if’s” simultaneously. Sometimes the plot gets pretty confusing, but ONE thing is certain in any universe–leading lady Jackie Burns is a knockout.
Burns plays the brainy, not quite 40 year-old Elizabeth who’s just arrived in New York City to make a new life, and we watch what happens as she either decides to hang with an old friend Lucas (Anthony Rapp) who’s squatting in a building and leading a protest against urban overdevelopment, or goes off with new found friend Kate (Tamyra Gray) and gives in to the overtures of a young handsome returning war vet/med student Josh (Matthew Hydzik) who’s instantly smitten with her.
The show takes us down both paths. In one universe, Elizabeth is the all business”Beth” who takes a high powered job as an urban planner in one universe; in another, the less driven “Liz” follows her heart and ends up falling in love with Josh. I LOVE this premise and it pulled me along– don’t we all wonder what would have happened if….? Once we catch on that the show is following both roads simultaneously, the first act zips along and left me wanting more. The staging and sets are sleek with scaffolding and a video projection of the city’s intersecting grid, simultaneously reminding us of the many roads not taken and how they (and our lives!) all connect. Smart.
But the overlong ACT II grew even more complicated and so became a tad tedious. At one point I think Beth was remembering something only Liz experienced on the subway– but I’m not sure, or IF she did, THEN maybe it was deliberate? Two women sitting behind me were clearly flummoxed trying to sort things out; at one point in the action as Liz/Beth seemed to be in bed with two men simultaneously, I heard one of them say, “I give up.” Well, no musical should be that frustrating. The nondescript score didn’t help; among other things no leitmotifs to keep Elizabeth’s two personas at least aurally distinct.
But here’s what kept me going: there are truly funny and heartbreaking moments and we care what happens to these people; I really wanted to see how each story would evolve, and how each turn of the plot would affect all of the other characters. And then, these performances; they were truly mesmerizing. Jackie Burns’s voice is a thing of beauty, clear and strong, perfectly-pitched and nimble, with a delicious tone that really blooms in its upper register. She’s Patti Lupone and then some, funny and intense, and dramatic, at ease and in full command of the stage and her dual personas at every moment. She absolutely anchors us to her emotional life; couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She and Matthew Hydzik had potent chemistry– his calm and cool to her hyped-up heat. His voice was rich and tender and oh-so-smooth. Tamyra Gray’s spunky “Kate” was a powerhouse onstage. You might remember her from the first season of “American Idol.” Anthony Rapp was perfectly cast as Elizabeth’s nebbishy, sexually fluid true blue pal. All the secondary characters with solos were absolutely first rate.
The show’s premise and performances carried me past the confusion and lackluster score, and left me with a sense of all the possibilities always and simultaneously before us–in other words a show of HOPE even within the limits of these desperate times. It’s all up to us.