KPBS AIRDATE: January 4, 2002
It’s January, the cusp of the new year, aptly named for the Roman god Janus, guardian of portals and patron of beginnings and endings, typically portrayed with two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. January would seem to be the right month for “Songs in the Key of Winter,” a new play about comings and goings, with music written and composed by local actor/singer/writer Ruff Yeager.
Framed as four separate two-character scenes, each segment tells a tale of duality and dichotomy. The lesbian couple is separated by the current war… one’s at home in New York; the other’s an Army physician heading for Pakistan. For me, this represented the first theatrical expression of our post-traumatic stress, though the idea didn’t really go anywhere after this first mention. But the women’s loving Internet interaction concerns birth and death, being apart but feeling together.
The second pair is a runaway teen in a roadside diner, and a tough-talking waitress with a heart of gold, who’s a lot more, and less trite, than she seems. It’s about pain and longing, running away and going back home.
The third segment is the best and most believably written. A young son comes home from college to find his mother selling the family house and moving away…. It’s a tender little story about stability and change, about holding onto the past and charting an unproven path into the future. In the final section, a gay couple confronts the meaning of love, as reflected in expectation vs. surprise, material greed vs. giving from the heart. All the strands are tied together, too loosely and too fast, in a final, full-cast musical number.
Surveying the production, one is also struck by dualities. The sweet, sentimental show has a lot going for it, though it isn’t wholly successful. Yeager’s score is interesting and unpredictable, but his lyrics are less so, and the songs tend to stop the dramatic action in its tracks. The Christmas carol interludes are mostly unnecessary, though some of the harmonies are lovely. Some of the dialogue is spot-on, and some feels contrived. The direction is aimless and uninspired, and the performances are variable, but the singing is generally good, and credible portrayals are offered up by Jessica Brandon, Julie Jacobs, Jessa Watson and John Martin. Yeager’s piano-playing and voice are added attractions. Though this isn’t a fully satisfying effort, Yeager is obviously a local theater talent to be watched and listened to.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc