A limitless cosmos of doorways and dead-ends, New York City is a dream, as much a state of mind as it is a place on the map. Adam Gwon’s 2009 musical Ordinary Days beautifully captures the chaotic flux of NYC in a nutshell, by reflecting in microcosm the city’s everyday influence on the romantic lives of two couples. Deceptively simple in form, Gwon’s love letter to Gotham is a minor masterpiece of lyricism and perk, condensing worlds of emotion into a mere 90 minutes.
Oregon Contemporary Theatre’s current production of Ordinary Days is itself a love letter to musical theater. Under the guiding hand of OCT artistic director Craig Willis, this show comes fully to life, making it one of the most expertly realized and enjoyable productions in recent memory.
Willis, who met Gwon in 2010 during a read-through of a new play, exhibits confidence and artistry at every turn; he approaches the material with tender tact, allowing the humor and heartbreak of Gwon’s wonderful music and lyrics to tell the story. The uncluttered stage design, also by Willis, evokes at once the angular reach and ethereal magnificence of the city, so much so that when bits of torn paper flutter from the top of a building you can imagine the enormity of their fluttery flight to the ground.
The small cast is excellent; each actor is intimately attuned to the romantic bustle of Gwon’s writing, which is clever and subtle without being coy or cloying. Trevor Eichhorn and Katie Worley play Warren and Deb, who meet — perhaps serendipitously, perhaps not — when she loses her graduate thesis and he finds it. With his muppet-y charm and boyish good looks, Eichhorn is a good fit as the classic idealistic dreamer floating through life, and he’s a perfect foil to Worley, who damn near steals the show as a neurotic whirligig of anxiety and ambition. Watching Worley strut and fret on stage is one of those divine pleasures specific to live theater.
Tony Coslett and Shannon Coltrane, as Jason and Claire, are equally as well matched as another prototypical NY couple — meet randomly, court quickly, move in together, do the Big Apple thang — that hits the skids thanks to an unresolved private grief. The revelation of Claire’s secret pain, also specific to the city, is so well handled by Gwon as to mark a moment in time when works of art can incorporate “that day” (Sept. 11) without being only about it.
The musical numbers range from frantic and funny to searching and sad, mirroring the grit and grandeur of the sleepless city. With elegant live accompaniment on piano by Nathan Alef, OCT’s Ordinary Days is anything but ordinary.
Ordinary Days runs June 26-29 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre; $15-$26.