by Melanie N. Lee · August 26, 2015
Broken Moments: A Bar Musical is performed in a real bar, with real drinks sold and the actors pre-set before the show, promising a time of fun and verisimilitude. Written by Leo I Rodriguez, directed by Steve Velardi, and musically arranged by Ben Harrell, with vocal direction by Benjamin Horen, this play is fun, but some moments are, indeed, broken.
In beautiful harmony, the cast sings the virtues of their favorite dive bar (“Broken Moments, where you say what you feel…”). Leo, the gentle giant of a bartender, invites all to pay their respects to Eddie, the recently deceased owner. This is also the bar’s last day, freeing Leo to pursue better things (“No more listening to the moaning and the wailing…”). Two other parties coincide with Eddie’s wake: Luke and Richard carry their younger brother James kicking and screaming into James’ 21st birthday party; and Sissy celebrates her “last night of freedom—whooooo!” at her bachelorette party with her “Maid of Horror” Josey.
The bar’s regulars and staff receive most of the play’s focus, including: loud, slender floozy Chelsea; baseball-capped Doug; handsome Carlos; Nicole, who grieves for Eddie the most; Adam, the amorous busboy; and Christa, the waitress who spurns Adam (“It’s not my job to make you happy,” she sings) while hiding a secret from him.
The mostly-white staff and patrons carry in Eddie’s ashes, his picture (a handsome, middle-aged African-American man), and roses, remember his wise advice and bad jokes, and await a lawyer to read Eddie’s will. Enter Robert, who turns out to have intimate ties with a regular, and whose sudden tantrum exposes a secret. As everyone gets drunker, more skeletons spill out of closets.
The play has many enjoyable moments. Some songs were fun: Luke warbling “Whiskey & Me”, wondrously describing the drink’s ingredients and effects as the crowd joins in dancing; James and Richard sharing a weed during “Addicted”; everyone rhythmically rapping knuckles on chairs or beer bottles on the bar as the men sing “Insane” a cappella. When the actors dance or shake their heads in rhythm or use props imaginatively, the fun increases. (My sister, who was with me, was so impressed by some songs, she wants the CD.)
However, the play’s structure feels disjointed, and it loses focus on its main character. Halfway through, I wondered if the man portraying Leo was the playwright (he is) and if he felt too shy to center the play on himself. Also, having the performers share and the chorus support nearly every song prevents the play from differentiating among scenes and characters. It’s too muddied.
Although the songs are fun to listen to, too many lyrics seem prosaic and blatant. I’m not calling for flowery verse; you can speak the simplest words and still pack a poetic punch. Without a defter hand, however, the lyrics with their oft-covered subjects—feminine independence, self-assertion, romantic conflict, betrayal, the power of love—border on trite.
The cast performs well. Especially fun are Noah Erin Fleischaker as the explosive, soon inebriated Robert, and Emily Battles, who floozies it up as Chelsea. Leo Rodriguez is sweet as the bartender; we don’t see enough of him. Sean Griffin as Luke is funny with the whiskey song, as are Cleo Antolin and Joseph Rivera as Richard and James with “Addicted”. Elizabeth Pryce Davies as Christa and Benjamin Horen as Adam give pleasing performances, as do Katherine E Sulenski (Nicole), Jeffrey Aiken (Doug), Jessica Sarah Bennett (Sissy), Jasmine Spiess (Josey), and Michael Longo (Carlos).
Broken Moments is worth seeing, but it can use some repair.