Photo Credit: Hundred Days Facebook Page
By Reuven Glezer
There needs to be a new term for the marvelous concoction that Abigail and Shaun, the husband-and-wife duo that make up the Bengsons, have currently running at the New York Theatre Workshop. While originally billed as a folk-punk musical refined from their first appearance at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival, it wouldn’t be quite right to call Hundred Days a musical. Yes, it is a narrative with songs that push that narrative forward; essentially the crux of what made the golden age of musicals happen in the 1940s. However, the bones that make up the beast that is Hundred Days is entirely of its own species, and what a beast of a show it really is.
Fictionalizing the story of how they met and fell in love, the Bengsons tell an unusual, heart-warming story of meeting and marrying each other within the next three weeks of said meeting (with the help of book writer Sarah Gancher to congeal that story). All throughout, the sketches of backstory that form who Shaun and Abigail are come to be presented in a song-story structure that defies what a more traditional musical might look like. It would also be incredibly reductive to call this a “concert with storytelling.” This performance isn’t a setlist with an anecdote in between, but it lacks the bracing of an enormous show on a stage that serves closer to a thousand people a night rather than the New York Theatre Workshop’s 198-seat mainstage.
HUNDRED DAYS live at Tiny Telephone, SF, before NYTW
Those braces we may associate with shows over on the Main Stem would have no doubt hindered the sheer slickness of movement that Hundred Days creates with the simplest of stagings. Director Anne Kauffman and movement director Tonya Sareh have created a constant fluidity among the storytellers in this lyrical, tall tale of two unexpected souls falling in love. Whether their lives encounter the rippling chaos of unexpected injury or near-mystical moments that convince us that human connection does not exist in a vacuum, the simplest acts make every moment count in this production. The Bengsons, by the way, are not the only storytellers. The band alongside them, comprised of Colette Alexander, Jo Lampert, Dani Markham, and Reggie B. White, act somewhere between the voices in their heads and a Greek chorus miming out the lives of other people that have shaped the journey of Shaun and Abigail in some way. Jo Lampert, of special note, gets her own amazing number that needs to be seen rather than be read about.
It would also be remiss to not praise the excellent stagecraft that makes Hundred Days work. Anne Kauffman has helped bring forward a world within which dreams, spur-of-the-moment decisions, and the deepest of fears are just as legitimate markers in life as any best-laid dream of mice and men. Light designer Andrew Hungerford has created what can be called nothing other than a landscape of color, burst, and beauty in his design for Hundred Days. Every moment is illuminated in such a way that you begin to wonder whether or not the lightbulbs that hang from the ceiling are in fact single moments of their lives, or if maybe those moments have drifted off into an unseen sky to become the lights of Astoria, Queens (with a sigh of relief that this story was not yet another musical or play set in Manhattan).
This simply leaves the question of what makes Hundred Days such a singular experience. It could be the amazing lighting design, or the fine movements that hold the breath of a single feeling, but it could also be how utterly human the story of the Bengsons is. It’s not a cute meet shrouded in music, but an honest reflection on the strange ways life might bring us to the person we could just be meant to love. However, it also takes in all the other moments, too – all of the scares, the hampered joys, and the anxieties of the past that threaten to undo something beautiful. When Shaun Bengson describes something Abigail does when she is afraid, which shall remain for the audience to discover, it’s very easy to empathize with Abigail for doing what some might see as cowardly.
It would have been so easy to make this a concert and add little drips of story in between each song as a crowd screamed and sang along. It isn’t, and that’s what makes the Bengsons’ Hundred Days all the richer, in both the songs and spirit of their story.
Hundred Days runs until 12/31. Get your tickets HERE.