by Robert Attenweiler · February 23, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #47 Robert Attenweiler shares his thoughts on Tina and Amy: Last Night in Paradise & STEVE: A DOCU-MUSICAL part of FRIGID new york It is perhaps a symptom of the times we live in that we can feel a connection to people we’ve never met before so easily. Information and connectivity can turn celebrities into regular people and regular people into celebrities. We are equally able to find echoes of our own lives and struggles in people as far ranging as, say, two television stars who just happen to be best friends and an anonymous man in Australia who we meet through a deluge of bizarre emails and song lyrics. This is the ground where Tina & Amy: Last Night in Paradise and Steve: A Docu-Musical pitch their respective tents and both shows do a nice job bringing these far reaching characters at least a little bit closer to home.
Tina & Amy is a highly fictionalized account of the last night soon-to-be Saturday Night Live stars, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, together in Chicago before Tina moves to New York City. There is obvious fun to be had here. Fey and Poehler are two of the funniest people on the whole darned planet and imagining them as younger, still-struggling versions of themselves send co-creators Maria Gilhooley (as Tina) and Antonia Lassar (as Amy) on a raucous ride of junk food related jokes and puns, both good and bad. Amy feels she is being left behind by Tina and so, with the clock ticking on the arrival of Tina’s taxi to the airport, Amy refuses to help her friend pack and, instead, insists they work on the ultimate sketch that they have pledged to write together. Tina must move on to bigger and better things and, eventually, Amy realizes that their friendship will survive Tina’s move. Gilhooley, Lassar and their co-creator and director, Nikki DiLoreto, keep things fun and moving along, as though from a bag of chips, to a waffle, to an open container of frosting.
Tina & Amy is light on story, but what story it has is less concerned with the actual Tina and Amy and instead, in the words of the creators, “what it is like to be young, female & fabulous (and by fabulous, we mean trying really hard to figure out what we want to do with our lives. Like careers, nutrition, romance, nail-bed health – the whole shebang.).” In that, it’s a successful exercise. The show runs into problems, though, because of its very subject matter. Fey and Poehler are two of the most gifted comedic writer/actors working today. Gilhooley and Lassar do a nice job, but they struggle to reach that high bar they’ve set for themselves.
Steve: A Docu-Musical, on the other hand, starts by purposely setting the bar low. The writer/performer, Colin Summers, talks about the business he and his collaborator, Andrew Eckel, started a few years back: people could send them poems and Summers and Eckel would write music and make a song out of the poems. They did very little business.
That is until, one day, a man named Steve contacted Summers from Australia requesting a song. He soon asked for another. Then another. Now, after over 6,000 emails from Steve, Summers has woven this avalanche of frank, funny, astoundingly unique correspondence into a story of his continuing relationship, a kind of creative partnership, with a man he’s never met.
Steve is a fun, refreshingly original piece, anchored by Summers’s strong sing-songwriter-y renditions of Steve’s lyrics. But, make no mistake, it’s Steve’s voice that drives the piece, as Summers uses selections of both the songs and the emails to paint a picture of this – how best to say it? – this very complicated man. Toward the end of the show, we find out something that makes Steve’s prolific songwriting make more sense, but I don’t want to give it away here. Taking the journey with Summers and Steve is far more rewarding.
Summers and the show’s director, Nessa Norich, have put together a svelte 60-minute production that bops along, moving Summers to a few different instruments to keep things fresh. The only time the show seemed to drift at all is when Summers tries to connect Steve’s knotted logic to his own life. Those moments just weren’t as strong. Overall, though, this show is a real hoot and definitely one of my favorites in the eight years I’ve been seeing Frigid Festival shows. You should really go and get to know Steve.