Cap and Bells delivers outstanding musical theater

‘How (Not) to be Alone’ provided an intense and impressive performance, both musically and theatrically on Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Sam Jeong
‘How (Not) to be Alone’ provided an intense and impressive performance, both musically and theatrically on Thursday night. Photo courtesy of Sam Jeong

In the best performance I have ever seen at the College, five actors from Cap and Bells performed How (Not) To Be Alone in Currier Ballroom last Thursday and Saturday night. Created by Rebecca Fallon ’14, Sarah Sanders ’14, Justine Neubarth ’13 and the Company, and directed by Matthew Conway ’15, the incredibly realistic and poignant musical combined humor with emotionally intense scenes to address the experiences of modern relationships between young 20-somethings. The performance by Carina Zox ’16 in particular – both musical and theatrical – was truly outstanding.

How (Not) To Be Alone traces the relationships between Jackie (Zox), Leo (Harold Theurer ’17), Chris (Mike Vercillo ’14) and Juliet (Madeline Seidman ’17). Each character is complex and embodies relatable feelings and outlooks. On the one hand, Juliet is in love with Chris and looks forward to a life together with him, although she realizes that to articulate that feeling makes her seem naïve. Chris, on the other hand, isn’t quite on the same page as his girlfriend of three years, and falls in love at first sight with Amanda (Charlotte Dillon ’14). As Chris and Juliet discover their differences, Leo, Chris’ band mate, and Jackie must deal with the aftermath of sexual assault. The play handles the topic with sensitivity and nuance, representing the effects on both parties with sincerity.

The majority of the musical’s plot is propelled forward through song lyrics; very little dialogue is spoken. Conveniently, the plot centers on two band mates and the women they love. Therefore, the band is situated within the set and the play’s musicians are visible throughout the production. Piano, cello, guitar and bass backed each of Fallon’s and Sanders’ songs, while popular tracks played from speakers off-stage to fill the spaces between scenes. Nearly all songs were duets; the voices of Zox, Seidman and Dillon each contributed different tones and inflections to imbue Fallon’s and Sanders’ songs with further meaning and emotion. Theurer and Zox were particularly effective in conveying anger and anguish through vocals, and Vercillo was especially charming as he played guitar and sang captivatingly in character.

How (Not) To Be Alone disproves any latent skepticism about the possible poignancy or sincerity of musical songs. The melodies and other musical qualities were compelling and impressive, and the lyrics were truly outstanding and affecting. Fallon’s music combined with Sanders’ lyrics brilliantly articulated various unspoken sentiments that felt particularly unique to members of this generation and this campus. To reprint Sanders’ lyrics without Fallon’s emotive melodies would fail to express their full impact. However, to simply read Sander’s words still captures some of the play’s deepest observations. Upon losing her three-year relationship with Chris, Juliet explains, “I do want all the things: the house, and the kids, and the rings, and the swings and the strings (for your guitar). I want them with you.” Some of the other more poignant lyrics that verbalized some of the play’s themes included, “someone should hear when I slam the door,” “there’s a point when you have to say: what are we doing here?” and “it’s too big to take back.”

While the majority of the play conveyed emotionally intense sentiments, more lighthearted comedic moments provided occasional respite. In some of the rare spoken dialogue, Chris and Leo entertainingly discuss Chris’ frustration with a truly terrible seven-year-old guitar student. To contrast the serious and important lyrics of the musical’s other songs, Chris’ band’s song was hilariously corny, wishing to “take a rocket ship away to somewhere far beyond the end of the world.” Vercillo’s character especially created a comedic break from the play’s serious topics in his epic freestyle for Amanda, proclaiming, “You might just be perfect, but I don’t care about that. All I know is you’re for me. I can see it in your laugh.”

The set of the musical complicated and enhanced its treatment of loneliness. The warm woodwork of Currier Ballroom and the glowing lamps used for lighting were juxtaposed against the characters’ severe isolation. Actors moved across the stage but rarely made physical contact or eye contact with each other. Often they faced the audience but likewise made little eye contact with viewers. Seidman and other characters sang from positions against the edges of the set, removing them from easy view. The close arrangement of the seats and the visible barriers of the heads of viewers in more forward rows constantly reminded audience members of the physical presence of others in the room. This awareness therefore complicated viewers’ perception of isolation and what it means to be alone.

Ultimately, How (Not) To Be Alone did not provide total resolution or give its audience a single message or answer. Characters remained broken; things were left unfixed. However, the genius of the musical was precisely its acceptance of irresolution. Jackie and Juliet managed to find hope rather than despair in being “not sure” about their futures yet content with the “room” that before made them feel empty. Individual viewers were left to contemplate the difference between being alone and being lonely, and were invited to personally consider how to be “fine,” or “anything other than,” as participants in this modern landscape.