Bengsons’ ‘Hundred Days’ goes begging 

Very live from New York City, The Bengsons, an irresistibly energetic, purportedly on-the-verge rock duo, have alighted at Z Space to stage the world premiere of “Hundred Days.”

Billed as a folk-rock odyssey, the show tells the story of Sarah and Will, a young half-Jewish couple who meet, instantly fall in love, marry and are immediately forced to deal with a terminal diagnosis. While it is rich in vitality, it’s saddled with a story that strains credulity and patience.

Originating in concept and music by Abigail and Shaun Bengson (Sarah and Will), “Hundred Days” scores with Anne Kauffman’s inventive direction, Joe Goode’s equally engaging choreography and a cast of fabulous singer-actors.

But Kate E. Ryan’s book scales the folk-rock operatic heights in only one respect: It’s just as implausible as many operas.

Actually, take that back. Even the starving artists in Puccini’s heartbreaking “La Bohème” have to deal with landlords and financial woes as they cope with terminal illness. Here, however, when Will is diagnosed with three months to live, just days after his marriage, the couple decide to wall themselves off in their apartment to live their last 100 days together as if they were 60.

They somehow manage to have enough to feed themselves and pay all the bills without ever once opening the door. That is, until Father (Dalane Mason), in true “La Traviata” fashion, intervenes. All that’s missing to propel “Hundred Days” well over the top is a full-throated death scene.

There are other problems. Opera lovers are accustomed to modern updates of period settings, but hearing 1940s music through a 1920s horn gramophone played by a trouser role DJ (the excellent and endearing Jo Lampert), who sports a baseball cap with the brim turned backward, cries preposterous.

Equally trying is the fact that, as sincere as the vocally gifted, emotionally expressive and downright lovable Abigail Bengson may be, husband Shaun’s vocal range is more limited and his single countenance is anything but poetic.

Throw in 30 context-driven songs that have little chance of standing on their own — this is not “Yellow Submarine,” “Magical Mystery Tour” or “Tommy” — and an acoustic that makes mush of the instrumentation, and what’s left is some great talent that does not go far.

Hats off to Amy Lizardo (Sarah) and Reggie D. White (Will), who sing the skirt and pants off the “other” Sarah and Will, and Melissa Kaitlyn Carter as friend Caroline.

Musicians Kate Kilbane, Joshua Pollock, El Beh and Geneva Harrison also make excellent contributions to an odyssey in need of a rewrite.

REVIEW

Hundred Days

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes April 6

Tickets: $15 to $75

Contact: (866) 811-4111, www.zspace.org

About The Author

Jason Victor Serinus

Jason Victor Serinus

Bio:
Jason Victor Serinus is a music and high performance audio critic, whistler, and lecturer on opera and vocal recordings. He is editor of Psychoimmunity and the Healing Process: A Holistic Approach to Immunity & AIDS. In addition to writing for the San Francisco Examiner, he has written about music for Opera News,... more
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