Sincere but Unsatisfying
By David A. Rosenberg
Alvin and Thomas have been friends since childhood, promising each other that whoever is left after the other dies will deliver the eulogy. At the top of the sincere but unsatisfying “The Story of My Life” at Music Theater of Connecticut through Feb. 7, we learn that Alvin has gone first, so the speechmaking is up to his buddy.
Flashback. While Tom is struggling with what to say, he and a figuratively resurrected Alvin re-live various ages and events: school, parental deaths, making snow angels, diverse career paths. Alvin, the nerd, takes over his father’s bookstore; Tom, the jock, becomes an award-winning writer. Alvin is Tom’s muse, spurring him to “write what you know,” which means tales of their lives together. But Tom doesn’t acknowledge Alvin’s influence until the end when, after having already written those stories, he agrees to, well, write those stories. (Actually, we learn very little about Tom.)
That’s the overall arc, using Frank Capra’s film “It’s a Wonderful Life” as touchstone (angels, feelings of being unwanted and useless, thoughts of suicide, etc.). Underneath their adventures is a love story, though an inadmissible one, to be sure. Alvin is obviously in love with Tom, a situation that Tom rejects. Or does he? Why does he break off his engagement to his girlfriend?
What the authors circle about, fearfully, is an unrequited gay romance. If Alvin and Tom finally admitted their attraction, the evening might have led to something deeper. As it is, these 90 intermissionless minutes are cloying and dishonest, more like those books of a generation ago where “the love-that- dare-not-speak-its-name” ends in suicide or murder. Aren’t we past that, folks?
The show’s lyrics are by Neil Bartram who also wrote the music, owing a huge debt to Stephen Sondheim but without the master’s clever rhymes and melodic touch. The best numbers are “Butterfly” (“I’m a butterfly, he said / Trivial and small / And in the greater scheme of things / I don’t mean much at all”) and “Mrs. Remington” (“And Mrs. Remington smiled / ‘Cause Mrs. Remington knew / That the battlefield of childhood / Was easier with two.”)
Brian Hill’s book is certainly heartfelt. Aiming for ambiguity and mystery, however, he winds up with obfuscation.
Fortunately, Kevin Connors’ direction betters the material and, at times, has real flair. As the distressed Tom, Rob Sutton is fair of face, voice and acting ability. Michael Di Liberto is sympathetic as the mooning Alvin.
David Wolfson is both musical director and accompanying pianist, both of which he accomplishes smoothly, plowing ahead without whimsy or sentimentality. Would that the earnest “The Story of My Life” did as much.
(This review appeared in The Hour, May 4, 2008)