I think everyone in their roster of friends knows someone like Gerry. (I can tick off at least three.) Gerry is the kind of oversized neurotic who blows into a room like a tornado and promptly sucks all the air out of it. Every sentence feels like a performance, and it’s virtually impossible to believe he’s for real. He’s exhausting in large doses, and yet we love him because he sure is entertaining and, under all the flamboyant melodrama, there’s a sweet and vulnerable guy.
Gerry in this case is the sole character in the brisk one-act “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” now at the SoHo Playhouse. Written and performed by Drew Droege and directed by Michael Urie, this is a comic tour de force that will leave your sides aching with laughter and your heart more than a little touched.
Gerry has arrived at a house in Palm Springs to meet up with some of his LA friends as they get ready for the wedding of two others. The play is a non-stop monologue as Gerry comments on the friendships and intertwined romantic relationships among the crew and more, not to mention various digs as Los Angeles traffic, same-sex marriage, and pretty much anything else that flies into Gerry’s mind at the least provocation. What apparently set him off is that the wedding invitation requested that guests avoid wearing bright colors and bold patterns. It’s infuriating and incongruous to Gerry that a gay wedding should be done in muted tones.
The script is whip smart and deliciously satirical as Gerry gets more drunk, banters with his ex and that ex’s new, young boyfriend, and throws barbs at an old nemesis, with all of whom he’s the “dearest of friends.”
Droege is a masterful performer with flawless timing, precise mannerisms, and absolute specificity about what he’s doing and whom he’s talking to. Though he’s the only person on stage, by the end of the show, you’re seeing the others there as well... or as nearly as possible. Urie’s imaginative staging hits every laugh but doesn’t ignore the more subtle aspects of the script.
The piece may be a bit conventional in that Gerry is somewhat of a stereotypical character, but it’s so entertaining and Droege is such a wonderful performer you won’t care. I was delighted to have spent 80 minutes with him. A weekend in real life might be just a bit too much.
With quiet lyricism and achingly beautiful humanity, “The Band’s Visit” works its way into your heart and leaves you surprised that you could be so profoundly moved by such a simple tale. The show with a book by Itamar Moses and a magnificent score by David Yazbek tells the story of an Egyptian band that finds itself in the wrong Israeli village and what happens over the 24 hours that these people are thrown together.
It’s not a new or even particularly original conceit. In fact, in many ways the story recalls that other marvelous show a few blocks down, “Come From Away,” where travelers are stranded in Gander, Newfoundland, on 9/11 and have to interact with the locals. But great stories are all in the telling, and “The Band’s Visit” is about how powerful seemingly unimportant events can be as people connect, touch one another’s lives, and part, most likely forever.
The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra has been invited to play a concert in Petah Tikva. Due to a misunderstanding at the bus station, they end up in Bet Hatikvah, which is about as remote as it gets. Of course, their arrival is a major event in a town that is, as the residents sing, “basically bleak and beige.” As the members of the band are taken in by the residents, there being no hotel and no bus out until the next day, we see and hear the stories of the lives of the people there. There is Simon whose unfinished clarinet concerto can soothe Itzik’s inconsolable baby even as Itzik thinks he’s a terrible father who is losing his wife. There is the telephone guy who stands by a pay phone all night waiting for his girlfriend to call. There is Haled who wants to school the locals on picking up girls. And there is Tewfiq, the leader of the band, mourning the loss of his wife, who opens his heart to Dina, the proprietor of the café who dreams of the broader world but will never leave. Each of these gentle stories unfolds in overlapping fashion, and the accumulation of emotion over the course of the evening is what leaves one so moved. These are people who by rights would never have met. They can only communicate in sometimes halting English. They are from countries at odds, if not war, with one another, and yet they find the link that is the human heart and come to recognize that life unfolds as it will and we are left to make the best of it.
Yazbek’s score is his best yet. The music runs a range from intimate ballads to comic songs, with compelling melodies steeped in Middle Eastern harmonics. It feels fresh and new, and it makes you lean forward to listen so as not to miss a note. His lyrics are typically sharp-edged and comic at times, but there is a sophistication to the poetry in the softer numbers that is new and wonderful.
David Cromer is probably the perfect director for such a finely tuned and subtle piece. His understanding of the human dynamics and the artful staging bring color and complexity to this world that on the surface is unremarkable. The company is uniformly outstanding. Ari’el Stachel as Haled, Jonathan Raviv as Sammy, and John Cariani as Itzki are all standouts, as is Adam Kantor as Telephone Guy. They each have their moments in which we see into their lives and their hearts in ways they likely haven’t exposed before. Tony Shalhoub is extraordinary as the uptight Tewfiq, struggling to open his heart and be vulnerable. Katrina Lenk, who was so wonderful in “Indecent” earlier this year, emerges as a powerful Broadway star. She’s an actress of impressive range and a singer with a unique and extraordinary voice and a magnetic stage presence.
This is a wonderful, understated and mature show that gets its impact not from spectacle but from the specificity with which it charts a journey of the heart. The band in question may have ended up in the wrong place, but as theater this is a perfect destination, and I, for one, want to go back.
BRIGHT COLORS AND BOLD PATTERNS | SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam St., btwn. Sixth Ave. & Varick St. | Through Jan. 7: Sun.-Wed. at 7:30 p.m.; Fri. at 9 p.m.; Sat. at 5 & 9 p.m. | $69-$99 at sohoplayhouse.com or 212-691-1555 | 80 mins., with no intermission
THE BAND’S VISIT | Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St. | Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m.; Fri, Sat, 8 p.m.; .Sun. at 3 p.m.; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m | $59-$179; telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | 90 mins., with no intermission