We've seen two plays in the last week, and by coincidence the music for both was written by Mark Messing, a local musician, composer, director of the circus punk marching band, Mucca Pazza, who we saw perform with Andrew Bird a few years ago.
The first play was targeted at kids, Brian Selznick's The Houdini Box. It was pretty certain we would enjoy this production, which featured magic and fantastic puppetry as well as a talented cast, and of course, a story by an author we already love.
The second play we saw was actually aimed at adults, but it is one of the most interesting, thoughtful and discussion-provoking pieces of theatre we have seen together. The Hunchback Variations is, in fact, an opera. Not your typical opera, though. It features two characters, Beethoven and Quasimodo, who have been set the difficult task of composing a sound effect for Chekov's The Cherry Orchard.
The opera takes the form of a panel discussion on "sound, mysterious sound, impossible sound, creating the mysterious impossible sound, and the effects on love and friendship of composing the mysterious impossible sound." The two characters spend most of their time sitting in the same spot, behind a large table, where they relate their total and utter failure to create this sound effect. It was a tough assignment, one in that reality may never have been fulfilled by anyone, real or imagined. "Suddenly, a distant sound is heard, as if from out of the sky. The sound of a string breaking. It dies away, sadly."
Perhaps, if this impossible sound could be made by anyone, it would be by the unexpected pairing of Beethoven and Quasimodo. But when Quasimodo sang, "I think things would have gone a lot better if we hadn't rehearsed at my house," we all burst into laughter. The final scene, where Beethoven speaks instead of sings, gives us all a chance to reflect on creativity and failure. It's funny and unexpected and sweet and moving and unlike anything else you are likely to see.