Desire is an enduring human quality leading to acts of love or lust since time immemorable. Hello Again, based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler, explores encounters of desire throughout the 20th century in a mosaic of intimacy and emotion.
Structured non-chronologically through the decades of the 20th century, Michael John LaChiusa’s musical follows ten archetypes as they swing in and out of each others’ orbits. Each musical number captures a particular musical and performance style like a series of discordant dalliances that overall represents a slice of America’s cultural history.
While there is great pleasure to be found in a live band, it resulted in a rather underwhelming opening with the first characters, the Whore (Emelie Woods) and the Soldier (Harrison Vaughan), singing inaudibly. But volume issues improved throughout the performance with particularly bold vocal performances from the Nurse (Anna-May Parnell), the Wife (Grace Driscoll), and the Actress (Stacey Gay) in their respective scenes.
Direction from Jerome Studdy was fast-paced which kept the production lively but often left behind the subtle details of characterisation that would have built each encounter into a richer story. It didn’t help matters that the costuming, the sole visual marker of the production’s movement through time, was often anachronistic and struggled to immediately construct a sense of place, creating a bit of a confusing jumble for those not already familiar with the plot. At the same time, other design elements such as the staging, with the audience in cabaret-style seating and the set differentiated in visual vignettes, was clever and gave an eclectic but welcoming flare to the production. Additionally, choreography, also from Studdy, was dynamic and unexpected, adding a physical chemistry to the scenes. This element certainly deserved a larger staging.
Of minor note was a seeming disconnect between the self-seriousness of the ensemble’s performances and the more tongue-in-cheek tone of the lyrics. On the other hand, perhaps the love scenes would have overall felt lighter with less examples of people coercing each other into unwanted sexual exchanges. These two things considered, the production attempts a balance of playfulness and cynicism that doesn’t entirely come off but could be attributed to either the script or the direction.
Stand-out performances came from Parnell as the Nurse turned from the pursued into the seductress, and Driscoll as the Wife unsure about how to pursue pleasure in a passionless marriage. Her solo song about a brief excitement with a man named Tom was a highlight of the show. Also, the number “Story of My Life” about how the College Boy (Denzel Bruhn) only wants what he can’t have was well-configured in the audience of a movie theatre and showed off Studdy’s potential as a director.
Not every encounter goes as planned, and not all desires get fulfilled but it’s certain that the possibilities of love and lust will keep the wheels turning and the bodies burning.
Hello Again is running at the Factory Theatre’s Fusebox from February 20th – 28th