In dealing with a talented composer suffering from writer’s block, actor-scribe Timothy McCracken’s “Composition” attempts a kind of theatrical variation on a theme. Onstage, unfortunately, such nuances don’t have the same impact they have in the musical world. While it’s intriguing at times to consider theatrical equivalents of musical repetition, dissonance and silence, it’s not enough, especially when the production hits too many other wrong notes.
TheaterWorks’ world preem of the three-hander, which had a Gotham showcase under the title “… there’s the story,” gets bogged down in a not-so-fascinating plot filled with coincidence and perfs that veer to the extreme.
Story centers on two grad-school composers living off grants in their hole-in-the-wall New York apartment. Handsome Curtis (Tommy Schrider) is a smooth-talking sharpie whose music writing is as prolific as he is shallow. The dweebish Henry (Timothy McCracken) is a talented and complex composer who is suffering from writer’s block, following the mysterious disappearance of his twin sister two years earlier.
The opening sequence is a series of short blackouts featuring the apartment-bound Henry in slightly different states of agony, exhaustion and inertia as he tries to get past a certain point of his new opus. After endless failed starts, the play proper begins. It continues the promising idea of refrain and variation as it chronicles the men’s personal and professional habits as it attempts to reveal their essence. Trouble is, their essence isn’t all that interesting and their habits become tedious.
Henry’s stuck groove gets an unexpected shove with the appearance of Curtis’ new girlfriend, Alexandra (Tara Falk), who quickly — and inexplicably — becomes fascinated with Henry. Sensing something special in him, she attempts to help Henry compose himself and find his way. She offers herself — or at least her cello — as his new muse.
But McCracken’s Henry is near catatonic and socially disabled, and his appeal to anyone becomes the bigger mystery in the production, helmed by a.d. Steve Campo. One isn’t sure whether McCracken’s clenched Henry should be loved, pitied or institutionalized.
Schrider offers some relief as the glib, self-centered roommate, but even his character’s easy charm becomes trying and his second-act turnaround feels forced.
With her natural grace, Falk manages to make her character’s stretches almost understandable, but she has to deal with some of the less-elegant dialogue (muses often do): “You don’t have to be holed up in an apartment to be alone,” Alexandra says to Henry. Forget Steinways, such moments deserve gongs.
Production has solid design values: Adrian W. Jones gives the guys’ Hell’s Kitchen apartment the right sense of rent-controlled despair, while Randy Redd’s original musical manages to hint at potential greatness without having to deliver the genius goods (a daunting assignment for any composer).