Days of Wine and Roses

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Photo: Ahron R Foster Review
It’s almost irrefutable that one will step into the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of “Days of Wine and Roses” wondering why JP Miller’s shattering source material about a couple battling alcoholism – first presented on television in 1958 and then memorably filmed in 1962 – has been musicalized.

And full truth be told, you’ll leave this unusual show 105 minutes later without a truly satisfactory answer, yet unbearably grateful to have heard the clarion, celestial voices of the wonderful Kelli O’Hara and Brian D’Arcy James – as the naïve secretary Kirsten Arnesen and the more worldly PR man Joe Clay – as well as the often-gorgeous melodies created by the prodigiously talented Adam Guettel.

Indeed, in his first major full score since “The Light in the Piazza” – yes, Guettel did compose the incidental music for Broadway’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” – he reminds us exactly what can be expressed in song, from Kirsten’s self-reflective solo “There Go I” and her heart-wrenching “Underdeath” -- sung to 7-year-old daughter Lila (Ella Dane Morgan) -- to Joe’s haunting ballad “Forgiveness” to jauntier duets for the pair like “Evanesce,” which celebrates the joy of being boozed up and in love.

As in “Piazza,” Guettel’s lyrics are often stand-ins for traditional dialogue, which is fine as far it goes, but one wishes Craig Lucas’ book gave us a bit more information, even as it stays mostly faithful to film. (For the record, he has excised the scenes in the sanitarium). In part, that’s also because Michael Greif’s remarkably fluid production, aided by Lizzie Clachan’s extremely clever set, often leaves us confused about when and where we are. (The show’s setting is now New York City and Long Island, not California.)

We’re also asked to suspend a bit of disbelief at the beginning of the show, since O’Hara and D’Arcy James – perfect-looking as they are (especially in Dede Ayite’s stunning period costumes) – are at least a decade older than their cinematic predecessors (and presumably their characters).

But these two actors are so good, so compelling, and so obviously fragile despite their outward strength that any questions we have quickly disappear -- and then evaporate as we are drawn into their story, which twists and turns on its way to an honest, not-so-happy ending.

Greif has dotted the production with an ensemble of eight actors often scurrying about the stage, moving furniture, and occasionally executing Sergio Trujilo and Karla Puno Garcia’s minimalist choreography. Only two of them, however, are allowed to make any significant impression.

Byron Jennings is chilling (as usual) as Kirsten’ strict but loving widowed father, willing to do anything for his only child, while David Jennings (no relation) is quite effective as Joe’s no-nonsense AA sponsor Jim. With little to do, primarily as a neighbor, Sharon Catherine Brown nonetheless consistently makes her presence felt – and given the power of her voice, I wish Guettel had given her a song.

How many more days will this show last? Hard to say, but I don’t necessarily expect a Broadway transfer. So if there’s any chance to grab a ticket during the remainder of its run, do so – and drink it all in while you can!
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Kelli O’Hara, Brian d’Arcy James, Steven Booth, Sharon Catherine Brown, Bill English, Nicole Ferguson, Olivia Hernandez, Byron Jennings, David Jennings, Ted Koch, Ella Dane Morgan, Scarlett Unger, and Kelcey Watson.

Open/Close Dates
Opening 6/5/2023
Closing 7/9/2023

Theatre Info
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th St
Neighborhood: Chelsea
New York, NY 10011