In grad school, I learned a deceptively straightforward theory that has proven quite useful over the years. Essentially, it states that in a relationship between two people, the person who’s least invested in the relationship holds the power.
This theory seemed to be the driving force behind the sweet (and slight) little musical playing at Victory Gardens, The Story of My Life, which tracks the relationship between two guy pals in a series of flashbacks and stories. Thomas (Jack Noseworthy) and Alvin (Davis Duffield) were inseparable buds throughout childhood, yet they started drifting apart somewhere post high school. What happened? The driven Thomas (the least invested one) took off to pursue his career as a writer, while Alvin stayed home to help his ailing father with the local bookstore, clinging to the memory of their friendship. Alvin tries to keep the relationship alive, but Thomas has little interest. “We grew out of it,” Thomas says (or, rather, sings).
The twist to this story is Alvin has suddenly died, and Thomas, now a successful author of short stories about his childhood, has come back home after a long absence to deliver the eulogy. In struggling to compose this final chapter in their lives as friends, Thomas looks back on their relationship to answer burning questions, such as: How did we drift apart? Did Alvin actually hold the power in our relationship? Was Alvin my literary muse after all? How does my hair look so perfect all the time? (Ok, so he didn’t address that, but that Noseworthy has one of the best manes of hair I’ve ever seen on a dude. Jealous.)
Chicago Muse, a new producing group, has attempted to breathe new life into this sentimental musical that had a five-performance run on Broadway in 2009. I knew nothing about this show going into it last night, so I arrived with fresh eyes and ears (which is rare for a musical showqueen such as myself), and on first exposure, I wasn’t pulled into the story as much as I wanted to be. Neil Bartram’s music is fine, if somewhat forgettable, but his lyrics often veer into mediocre land. For example, Thomas has a big song, delivered expertly by the full-voiced Newsworthy, about a butterfly. Not only can you not help but think it sounds like a second-rate version of “Meadowlark” from The Baker’s Wife, but the lyrics are painfully pedestrian. And Brian Hill’s book doesn’t really provide enough information as to why these two guys were even friends in the first place. They didn’t seem to have much fun together, other than making snow angels. (Yes, snow angels.)
In spite of my reservations with the material, the production is first-rate, with meticulous music direction by Roberta Duchak backed by a lovely sounding band of three players. And director Richard Maltby, Jr. attempts to bring real emotion to the piece — the last 10 minutes were particularly effective. Though, perhaps a little too late.
I will say I left the theatre thinking about past and current friendships and how they’ve evolved and, in some cases, dissolved over time. Who held the power? Who was the least invested? Why can’t I have hair like Mr. Noseworthy’s? After all, I don’t want to be delivering any eulogies any time soon.
“The Story of My Life” plays through Jan. 2 at the Victory Gardens Biograph. More info here >