Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Plath's Path

Sylvia Plath is notorious for writing. She's also well known for her untimely suicide. But what some may not know is that was not get first attempt. That occurred during college. In Fernanda Douglas and Molly Rose Heller's Plath, Sylvia Plath and her Smith life are given the musical theater treatment. It's a heavy piece about depression that proves not everything wants to be a musical. The lens in which book writer Molly Rose Heller decides to tell Plath's story is through a therapy session. Dr. Lindemann directs Plath through her journals and writings that lead to memories coming alive. The device is interesting but also very docile. The way Sylvia moves through her moments with Dr. Lindemann are quite bland and missing care. And it's also possible that you can check out of there non-musical moments due to Jenny Vallancourt's very soft speaking voice against the mammoth sound-sucking Theater at the 14th St Y. With the book scenes severely lacking, the music needed to make up for it. With deep dark material, it's a difficult task to find lightness in the musical. And the score by Fernanda Douglas reflected that difficulty with one exception. "Dr. Dick" was the sole moment Plath came to life. Aided by an upbeat groove, the song was the only number that felt right. And that was all thanks to Douglas utilizing the 50s sound. The remainder of the score lived in the standard Broadway style where everything felt the same but the departure in "Dr. Dick" was welcomed.
To lead the production as the titular character, Vallancourt lacked that leading lady spark. She offered an incredibly passive performance. Vallancourt was very internal, something musical theater is anything not. Plath has the exceptionally strong ensemble to thank for saving the show. Each supporting player was a skilled performer in voice and movement. Partially due to the best number in the score, RJ Woessner as Dick, Sylvia's occasional lover, was stellar. His Ivy League charm won over the audience with his bright smile and silky vocals.
Rather than incorporating the standard dance element into the piece, director Emily Feinstein played with a more contemporary movement exploration. It worked in her favor as Feinstein and her company painted some beautiful stage pictures through the musical staging. Feinstein should also be commended for consistency. Rather than giving a light bump after songs, she forced the narrative to continue. The only trouble was it didn't allow a moment of recovery for the audience. The scenic and costume design by Christina Tang and Nell Simon kept the world of Plath in greyscale. With the concept of having the ensemble write on the paper on the wall units was interesting, unfortunately the execution suffered, as it was difficult to see what was being written due to the distance of audience to stage.
When it's all said and done, Plath was missing something. It felt incomplete. Perhaps it's just the first act for her full life story but if that's the case, the therapy session concept will have to be reevaluated.