Dallas-born musical has plenty of tricks, but it's missing the magic
A new musical about a turn-of-the-century vaudeville magician sings often about misdirection, and that ends up being prophetic for the jumbled, confusing show that's currently playing at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.
Dallas couple Patrick Emile and Olivia de Guzman Emile first began working on As We Lie Still in 2012, but its several workshops and presentations over the years seem to have muddled the plot instead of crystallizing it. It has a fascinating premise, big themes, a few lovely tunes, and the added bonus of some impressive magical illusions, but this full-out production loses its way early and often.
There are quite a few threads left dangling in the dual timeline story. In early 20th century New York, an ambitious young magician (Wyn Delano) is honing his death-defying act with the help of his loyal stagehand and newly hired assistant. Decades later (but, curiously, not enough to have explained his rapid aging) the magician (now played by Michael Robinson) has abandoned show biz to live as a bookseller and stager of fake seances, until a grieving young woman looking for a miracle revives his past.
Cool story, huh? If that were all it might be enough to smoothly move the show along, if we also didn't have baffling detours into the afterlife, oddly timed musical numbers, and more inconsistencies than you can shake a white rabbit at.
For example, why make the sassy assistant Josephine (de Guzman Emile) tear up when remembering her deceased young son, only to never explain what happened to him or his father? Why give the stagehand (gamely played by Jovane Caamano) a mental deficiency when it's only exploited for cheap laughs? What's the backstory on that magical book that so enjoys turning its own pages? And what's with the guardian of the afterlife (Aaron Green), who sings of how he used to be human but is the equivalent of a Walmart greeter for the rest of the show?
This is only a small sampling of the questions As We Lie Still, which is under the direction of Michael Serrecchia for the second time, brings up. There are many, many more, including why some of DFW's best talent is wasted in confusing, paper-thin ensemble roles. (Clint Gilbert, so versatile recently in Uptown Players' The Toxic Avenger, here has absolutely nothing to do.)
Monique Abry tries to find purpose in Ruth, the young wife whose comatose husband (Kyle Montgomery) gets a pointless solo in act two, but the way she's written condemns Abry to only searching looks and anguished belting. There are hit-you-over-the-head connections between Ruth and Josephine that don't pan out, so don't even try to connect the dots.
The only parts that make solid sense are the illusions, staged by Trigg Watson and performed handily by Delano. From card tricks to disappearing props to even a floating woman, the magic might be the one aspect of this show that its creative team meant to leave a mystery.
As We Lie Still runs through November 20 at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas.