The challenge with this musical has always been that, with only one actor on stage for most of the play, he or she must always be acting and can never take refuge in reacting or interacting. Red Brick Productions’ Helen Clark met this challenge, but her co-star Darren Flick fell far short of it.
Clark’s portrayal of struggling actress Cathy Hyatt, moving backwards in time from the end of her relationship to the beginning, is highly engaging, full of enigmatic facial expressions and gestures. Her voice is breathy and lovely, varying between Disney princess and country music star. She makes strong and natural contact with the audience, successfully creating spaces on a bare stage so that we know she is in a car even though she is just sitting on a block. She conveys Cathy’s crises of confidence to great effect and seems to improve every time she enters.
Flick’s portrayal of successful novelist Jamie Wellerstein, who moves forward through his relationship with Cathy, contrasted heavily. He was insecure in his role, fidgeted nervously with his costume, and was thoroughly unconvincing. His singing suffered from terrible pitch problems throughout, to the extent that his time on stage was painful for the audience. His emotions were implausible, and he hesitated and stammered through some of his lines. My efforts to look elsewhere during his performances failed due to the extraordinary bareness of the stage. The tiny venue, which works to create a feeling of intimacy during Clark’s time on stage, only works against Flick, whose proximity to the audience appears to panic him.
The small live band was effective and talented, and the costumes and props contributed to the humour of the show. Emotive, touching, and enjoyable as Clark’s performance was, ultimately it wasn’t enough to carry the show. It is impossible to enjoy a musical when a whole half of it is out of tune.