Artistic Choices in Ordinary Days Make it Extraordinary

Ordinary Days is the story of the struggle of four young people letting go of their baggage and finding a way to self-actualize. Being in my mid-twenties, it’s certainly a familiar story. Deb is a graduate student trying to finish her thesis, Warren is a hardcore optimist to the point of delusion, Jason thinks he’s found love but can’t express it, and Claire’s past is holding her back. In an intertwining series of events, the four New Yorkers get deeper insights into their own desires and are able to let go of their pasts and find a way to be happy.

When you enter the theatre door, leave your assumptions about musicals there. Ordinary Days doesn’t entirely follow the conventions of musical theatre. It’s the kind of musical you only really realize it’s a musical at the beginning and end, because the middle draws you in so completely, you sort of forget that it’s being performed entirely in song. In fact, there wasn’t one word of true dialogue in the performance! However, at a speedy 80 minutes, Ordinary Days throws the stereotype of having “filler” songs and reprise after reprise out the window. Writer Adam Gwon also hasn’t stretched the musical form to the point where he’s forced rhymes that sound unnatural. All of this has the effect of leaving you realizing that you just saw a play… that happened to be sung. It’s a strange experience, as the lyrics could be lifted exactly as they are and spoken, but that’s not the direction Adam Gwon went. The use of music elevates the lyrics from “ordinary” to “extraordinary,” if you will (or “songs” if you won’t).

I enjoyed Three Form Theatre’s production of Ordinary Days. As the play’s Director, Steven Angove, promised in our interview to preview the play, the stage design takes advantage of the PCL Studio Theatre’s rectangular shape and positions the audience on three sides of the performance space, which had the effect of making the other sections of the audience seem like bystanders on the streets of New York. The blocking in this space added a lot of depth to the fairly sparse performance space. The actors used the entire space, coming out from every corner of the room, weaving between freestanding walls, or approaching audience members to hand out fliers. This obvious departure from the typical theatre layout, where the playing space and the audience are clearly delineated put the focus on the action driving the story, rather than the space in which it was performed. The only disadvantage this use of the performance space had was that, with actors who weren’t using microphones, it was difficult for me to hear all of the lyrics. I’m certainly fine with not always being able to see an actor’s face when they’re singing or talking, as long as the sound is still carrying. Since the PCL Studio Theatre is a smaller venue this wasn’t a huge problem, but it did take me out of being immersed in the performance.

I’ll make one last comparison between Ordinary Days and “traditional” musicals: the “size” of character’s personalities. Look at musicals like Grease, Anything Goes, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music – they’re all filled with characters with giant personalities. It was refreshing that in Ordinary Daysthe characters were, well, ordinary. I could see myself or my friends in each of them. The character I related to the most was Adrianne Salmon’s portrayal of Deb. From her moments of singing a mile-a-minute, to the way she sang, “It’s gone! It’s gone! It’s gone! It’s gone!” and then using belly breathing techniques to calm herself, to catching herself being truly nasty to someone who just wanted to return her thesis notes to her. Adrianne did a great job in crafting a truly three-dimensional character and portraying that character in an honest way.

Another kudos has to go to accompanist Arielle Ballance. While it’s true the four actors were singing through the entire musical – which is amazing – I’d like to draw attention to the fact that Arielle – and not a musical recording – was playing the piano continuously for the entire length of the musical!

Ordinary Days runs at the PCL Studio Theatre October 17 – 19. Tickets are $15 – 20 at Tix on the Square.  Check out threeformtheatre.com for more information about Three Form Theatre.

– Jenna Marynowski

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