Playwright: Nick Salamone (book, lyrics), Maury R. McIntyre (music)
At: Bailiwick Repertory
Phone: (773) 883-1090; $22-$25
Runs through: Feb. 22
A colleague of mine said, 'Being a theater critic is an easy job, but someone has to do it.' Yet it's not so easy when a gay critic for a gay paper has nothing good to say about a gay show. With that as preamble, let's take a tour of Moscow. This chamber musical has won several awards since its 1998 Los Angeles premiere, but this critic failed to discern its charms. I found its premise ludicrous—an exercise in character writing rather than drama—and its music numbing.
Jon, Matt and Luke—all Apostles?—are in a windowless theater they cannot leave, a literal stand-in for limbo. They don't know how or why they are there, or if they're dead or alive. Jon is a daddy, a theater type from New York. Matt is a sweet, damaged, fatherless kid from the Detroit ghetto via Idaho. Luke is a southern jock hunk with a big heart and tiny mind, whose Baptist preacher father threw the fag out. Anything original so far?
Now, here's where it gets silly: Jon forces the others to don skirts and rehearse the classic Chekhov play, The Three Sisters. The authors believe there are meaningful parallels between Jon, Matt and Luke and the sisters Olga, Masha and Irina. For those who know Chekhov, there aren't. For those who don't know Chekhov, what difference does it make? What's really going on is that Luke's into Black boys and lusts for Matt, but Matt wants daddy and lusts for Jon, who lusts for Luke. They lust and bicker repetitively in self-confessional and emotional dialogue that's mostly unconvincing (except for Brian Givens as Matt in quiet moments). As Jean-Paul Sartre concludes in No Exit, a much better play about limbo, 'Hell is other people.'
OK, so the premise and dialogue don't set Moscow on fire (inside joke for history buffs). What about the music? There are lovely, contemplative instrumental lines for piano, flute and violin in a quasi-minimalist way. But the vocal lines are unmusical; immensely long strings of words that make most of the songs sound like endless recitative in minor keys, and challenge all three voices. Although gentle on the ear, there's a dulling sameness and lugubrious spirit. A few pop-flavored songs are refreshing breaks, notably the love song 'Empty Room' and 'So Long Matt,' both sung by Givens (who goes flat and harsh when loud; stay softer).
Givens, pro wisecracker Michael Hampton (Jon) and hunky-looking Adam McNulty (Luke) give it heart and sincerity. Robert Ollis is an ace musical director. Bo List handles the physical staging effectively. But to what point? The authors fail to make their case. The Moscow winter defeated Napoleon, and this winter Moscow defeats—or at least baffles—me.