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Sunday, May 15, 2016

CITY STORIES: Tales of Love and Magic in London by James Phillips

L-R: Phoebe Sparrow and Matthew Flynn in PEARL.  Photo by James Phillips.
City Stories: Tales of Love and Magic in London is currently enjoying its US premiere as part of this year’s Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.  This is not a single play but rather a half dozen wonderfully phantasmagorical one act plays, each of which has been written and directed by James Phillips and all of which, in the most unexpected ways, seek to explore the deepest interrelated issues of faith, love, change, connection and self-identity.  In lesser hands, these explorations might have come across as platitudinous or absurd or both but as written and directed by Phillips and as performed by this truly enthralling and accomplished cast, they are consistently entertaining and thought-provoking.

The six plays are Narcissi,The Great Secret, Lullaby, Occupy, Pearl and Carousel, but they are played in repertoire with a selection of just four at each performance.  In the opening performance that we attended, the four plays presented were Occupy, Lullaby, Narcissi, and Pearl.

Daphne Alexander in OCCUPY.  Photo by James Phillips

In Occupy, Mark (Matthew Flynn) is a member of a secret society working beneath St. Paul’s Cathedral to preserve all the letters written to God throughout history.  Ruth (Daphne Alexander) has written and posted just such a letter and now wants it back.  Her mesmerizing interaction with Mark makes for a terrific two hander.

In Lullaby, everyone in the world is rapidly falling asleep and Audrey (again played beautifully by Daphne Alexander) appears to be one of the last holdouts, if not the last.  Her closest friend, Rachel (Phoebe Sparrow) is sinking fast but there might yet be time for her to restore her relationship to Joe (Tom Gordon).

In Narcissi, Jack (Tom Gordon), an impoverished artist, informs Natalie (Sarah Quintrell), an equally impoverished pianist who he never met before, that she is truly the love of his life.  And it is up to the two of them, separately and together, to sort it all out.
Finally, in Pearl, David (Matthew Flynn) encounters a woman whom he takes to be the incarnation of his lost true love, Marguerite.  But is Pearl (Phoebe Sparrow) really who he thinks she is?

The four plays are all exquisitely written and performed with an almost other-worldly sense of style.  And the entire production is enhanced by the accompanying original music composed and performed live on the piano throughout the show by Rosabella Gregory.

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