Fasten your seat belt. Here comes the 2015-2016 theater season. Know Theatre gets bragging rights for being first out of the local theater gate with Hundred Days, a Rock-and-Roll show it played a significant part in developing. The Folk-Rock odyssey was created by and features the husband-and-wife duo of Shaun and Abigail Bengson. It was presented at Z Space in San Francisco in February 2014.
Hundred Days is the story of a couple who fall in love and quickly marry, only to have their time together cut tragically short by a fatal illness. Their romantic, defiant response to their fate: Compress the 60 years they had envisioned into the 100 days they have left. The show is a hybrid of an unconventional musical, an Indie Rock opera and a tragic romance.
Robert Hurwitt, writing about the initial production in the San Francisco Chronicle, explained that it was a work in progress, observing that, “everything is in flux in Hundred Days.” He said, “That’s not just because the transience of life and love is the theme of the dynamic indie-folk rock musical … . The show is in transition.” The opening-night audience was informed that Hundred Days was “still something of a work in progress, with changes to be made throughout the run.”
Hurwitt felt the show still needed work, especially its ending. But he cited Abigail Bengson’s “gripping, chilling, exhilaratingly wild and heartrending ‘Three Legged Dog’ solo alone — the plaint of a woman facing life without her husband” as a “must-see.” He added, “And it’s not the only one.”
Cincinnati audiences have flocked to Fringe performances by the Bengsons, whose Americana-influenced brand of Indie Rock has won fans across the country. Their shows blend soaring vocals with frenetic rhythms and rousing all-join-hands choruses. With a largely rewritten libretto this iteration of the show might be called The Bengsons’ Hundred Days, offering a full spectrum of music encompassing Folk, Blues, Irish and a touch of Gospel and art song as they tell a love story that’s some of their own blended with a work of fiction that asks listeners to imagine living each day to the fullest when mortality is imminent and inevitable.
Three years before the San Francisco performance, the Bengsons presented a developmental version of the show, then called “Songs from The Proof,” at the 2011 Cincinnati Fringe. During the summer of 2012, they returned to present a concert of some of the songs now included in Hundred Days. Further workshopping happened in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, refining Hundred Days to its present state. The story of the ill-fated lovers benefited from all this work, and the resulting production is what’s landing on Know’s mainstage from July 24 to Aug. 22.
Anne Kauffman, a New York-based director with lots of experience developing new plays, has been with Hundred Days since its inception and staged the San Francisco premiere. She’s in Cincinnati to direct the production here. Her credentials include work with New York’s Public Theater, Vineyard Theatre, Naked Angels and Playwrights Horizons as well as with the Wilma and Arden theater companies in Philadelphia, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival, Yale Rep and the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Her production of Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit won the 2013 Obie for best new American play.
Abigail and Shaun Bengson play the couple; Joanna Lampert, who was in the original San Francisco production portrays Will’s best friend. Also in the ensemble are cellist Colette Alexander and actor-musician Brian Koch (from the band Blitzen Trapper), as well as actors James Creque (Dr. X in Know’s Hearts Like Fists) and Lindsey Augusta Mercer, co-founder of Queen City Queer Theatre Collective who has worked locally with Diogenes Theatre Company, New Edgecliff and Cincinnati Shakespeare.
Four dancers from Cincinnati’s Exhale Dance Company dancers — Sarah Emmons, Katie Farry, Courtney Howard, and Jacob Thoman — will perform dance elements crafted by choreographer Sonya Tayeh. She’s worked with Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Miley Cyrus and developed dances with groups as diverse as the Martha Graham Dance Company, Cirque du Soleil and the Los Angeles Ballet.
As he enters his second season as Know’s artistic director, Andrew Hungerford is working hard to present cutting-edge productions at his theater. He has assembled an impressive array of performers, musicians and artists for this show. If the storytelling and production of Hundred Days is any indication, this hybrid work of Indie Rock, art, dance and theatrical performance means the Cincinnati theater season is off to a fierce, roaring start. As I said, fasten your seat belt.
This is a revised version of my initial Curtain Call column that was published in CityBeat's July 22 edition. It reflects more accurately the evolution of Hundred Days from its original 2014 production in San Francisco. — RP
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]