Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Theatre Field Trip: 'The Waves' at Powerhouse Theater

The cast of The Waves - Powerhouse Theater

As a big fan of both Alice Ripley and Raul Esparza, I was excited to learn that they'd be starring alongside each other in The Waves at Powerhouse Theater (also known as Hamilton’s workshop venue before it went off to the Public.) I figured the field trip would be a fun way to see something brand new that may never make it to New York, while visiting a Hamilton landmark. The weekend - while maybe not as chock-full of fabulousness as I'd hoped - provided one beautiful evening of theatre.

The Waves is based on the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name. It follows 6 friends throughout their lives - which may or may not take place in a single day. Almost every word from the novel is set to music by composers David Bucknam and Lisa Peterson. The original piece played a short engagement in New York in the 90s. It closed quickly and sat on a shelf for many years after the death of Bucknam. Thanks to a meeting of talents, The Waves gained a new life through Powerhouse's Mainstage summer season.

Virginia Woolf's words are beautiful, but when set to music they take on more of a lyrical quality. It's easy to see why Bucknam and Peterson developed the story this way. In my often-linear brain, I had a hard time picturing how a book could be translated word for word into music. Wouldn't the lack of rhyming or the fluidity of the words be difficult to understand in this manner?

It appears I had nothing to worry about. The performance in a single word was stunning. There was something about the use of minimal set design, and costume that allowed the actors voices and the author's words to come alive. From the moment it began, I was invested in the lives of these 6 friends. I may not have understood everything in the story, but the overall product affected me on so many levels.

My pre-conceived notion - with very little research - was that the characters were in fact the titular waves splashing in on the tide and leaving again when the tides changed. However, the friends go off to school and live real lives so I no longer think that's the case. If you ignore the last line of the description, the story is a beautiful depiction of a friendship from beginning to end. 

Costumes changing from all white at the characters’ birth through grays of their lives, then to all black at the end, showed the passage of time in a creative and effective manner. Though, the story fully rested on the backs of these talented actors. From start to finish their performances were perfect. In such a small space, the gorgeous voices of these actors combined to create stunning harmony. Whether the actors were singing in pairs, trios or all together, their voices blended beautifully. It’s a testament to the talent of these 6 actors that they were able to tell such a compelling story with very little but their voices and their relationships with each other.

While I doubt a small show such as this will ever make it to New York, I can continue to hope that it will make its way to a slightly larger audience. It’s beauty and poetry reminded me a lot of The Band’s Visit which has rightfully been given its moment to shine. While Broadway is often overshadowed by bigger and bolder shows, it’s often the smaller shows that have more heart and resonate more with theatre audiences. And in the case of The Waves, this small show about the lives of six friends has a heart larger than most. Not to mention, almost everyone can relate to the relationship between old friends. Beautifully creative shows like these deserve their chance in the sun too. With the talent behind this show, I only hope it may find it.  

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