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THEATER REVIEW One Thousand Words
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2017-09-06

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Playwright: Book and lyrics by Michael Braud, music by Curran Latas

At: Theater Faction at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: $17.50-$27.50. Runs through: Sept. 17

Michael Braud and Curran Latas have written a musical containing everything a romantic story could want. To start, it's a memory play, with all the hindsight guilt and regret engendered thereby. Its framing device is that of an up-and-coming journalist assigned to write a thousand-word story on the once-prosperous, but now economically depressed, town of Winslow, located deep in the mountains of coal country.

His task involves an interview with a survivor of a long-ago mining disaster, but the history recounted by the aged Warren Johnson takes us back to 1940, when his best friend, Daniel, fled the industrial life for New York City and a career in the theater. A year later, Warren pays him a visit and finds his comrade cohabiting in bohemian contentment with an interracial couple, jazz musician Thomas and cabaret chanteuse Virginia. Elated by the freethinking urban atmosphere, Daniel declares his love to Warren. After some initial hesitation, Warren returns his affection. Happy-ever-afters do not come readily to same-sex lovers in the mid-20th century, however.

Their struggles provide opportunities for an array of songs extolling hopeful futures ( "There I'd Be" ), solitary yearnings ( "To See You Again" ) and affirmations of loyalty ( "The Time We Fell In Love" ). Treble vocals include Virginia's celebration of her hepcat workplace ( "Feeling the Beat" ) as well as duets featuring hometown girl Elizabeth extending what protection she can to the closeted men ( "Shelter" ). Warren's wartime service supplies the pretext for a rowdy nothing-like-a-dame soldiers' chorus ( "Eye on the Prize" ). The score also has room for a few rousing full-front ensemble anthems ( "Promise" ).

This inaugural production by Theater Faction has undergone considerable development since its Midwest premiere ( in a one-act version ) at the 2015 Chicago Musical Festival. At the preview performance I attended, some of the alterations were still evident in the transitions, and the cast led by Brandon Campbell and Garrett Wade Hayley as the society-crossed soulmates took a few moments to find their confidence, but the emotional intimacy at the heart of this poignant glimpse of an often-ignored era makes for a bittersweet memoir in these waning days of summer.


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