Sunday, May 20, 2012

"The View from Here" at Nautilus Music-Theater

The View from Here* is the second show I've seen in Nautilus Music-Theater's small studio space in St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood. Like last fall's Joan of Arc, The View from Here is a beautifully intimate and acoustic music-theater experience. But unlike Joan of Arc, there were plenty of available seats last night, which means you have a great opportunity to see one of the five remaining performances. This is my favorite way to listen to music, whether at a concert or the theater, without the interference of microphones and amplification. Even if the sound is done well (which it sometimes isn't), it still creates a distance between the performers and the audience. In Nautilus' studio theater, there's no separation between the performers and the audience, either through physical space or sound, creating the feeling that we're all in this together.

The View from Here is a one-man musical written by Timothy Huang and first produced in 2005 at the NY Musical Theatre Festival (which I'd love to go to sometime). A man moves into a small, bare apartment in New York City and attempts to get his book published. He arrives brimming with confidence and optimism, writing letters to his wife about the great things he's seeing and experiencing. But that slowly starts to change as his manuscript is repeatedly rejected and he's forced to get a boring job to pay the bills. And it starts to become apparent that something isn't quite right with this situation. He constantly writes and talks to his wife, wishing they could be together, yet he never calls her (who writes out letters longhand anymore in this age of smart phones?). When it finally comes out what the real situation is that led him to write a book and move to NYC, it's heart-breaking and leads to a near tragic ending.

The main character is played by the consistently excellent Joel Liestman, with musical accompaniment by Jerry Rubino on piano and Jim Tenbensel on the trumpet, both of whom are heard but not seen. The trumpet provides the other side of several conversations this character has, in a Charlie Brown sort of way. This is a great score, and Joel sings it beautifully, as well as portraying the range of emotions that this character goes through. It reminds me a little of Next to Normal - a really intense musical theater piece about heavy topics like grief and loss - only on a smaller scale. It's almost like a Ten Thousand Things show; it has that same raw, immediate feel.

The physical space is completely transformed from when I last saw it (designed by Nautilus Artistic Director Ben Krywosz, who also directs). The stage is a tiny, bare apartment, unfurnished except for an answering machine and phone. The lone window in the apartment is a working window that, when opened, allows the sights and sounds (not to mention cool air) of the city to enter, further adding to that raw, immediate feel.

Nautilus again delivers a great "music-theater" experience, unlike you'll get in any other theater in town, and one that's definitely worth checking out while you still can (click here for ticket information).

*I received two complementary tickets to see The View from Here.