Ordinary people express their ordinary thoughts as they go about their ordinary business.
The problem with Adam Gwon’s musical “Ordinary Days” lies in its central conceit of being about ordinary people expressing their ordinary thoughts as they go about their ordinary business on an ordinary day in New York. Neither New York nor the New York theater is especially kind to ordinary people — like the show’s two young couples struggling to make meaningful connections in an uncaring city of strangers. For all the technical proficiency of Gwon’s work and Marc Bruni’s staging, the musical is buried under its own banality.
Despite its modest designation as the Roundabout’s official Black Box Theater, this gorgeous little bandbox space is prime real estate, providing theatergoers with a rare opportunity to experience “downtown” experimental work in an off-the-Main Stem location. (The 62-seat house previously showcased “Speech and Debate” and “The Language of Trees,” also under the Roundabout Underground banner.) It seems counterproductive, then, to serve up something mundane.
Which is not to say Gwon isn’t trying to make something extraordinary of the four ordinary people here, starting with Warren (Jared Gertner, making a naked plea for affection). Gay, sensitive and obviously lonely, Warren has made himself “an ambassador” for a downtown graffiti artist currently doing jail time for spraying his inspirational thoughts (on the order of “Kindness Is a Virtue That Is Often Times Ignored”) all over the city. Having printed these insipid sayings onto little colored cards, in “One by One by One” he tries to press them upon busy New Yorkers who are understandably loath to touch them.
Despite coming up with an ingenious stunt to promote his vision, this frustrated would-be artist is what he is — and there are lots of him around.
The same might be said of Deb (Kate Wetherhead), a perky model of all those sad girls who give themselves bohemian airs to mask the aimlessness of their lives. But while Wetherhead adopts some cute vocal quirks to deliver darling Deb’s manifesto in “Don’t Wanna Be Here” (and Lisa Zinni comes through with some adorable costumes), there’s one of her in every downtown coffeehouse.
Because they’ve ripened on the vine for an extra decade, the older couple would seem to have a better chance to show some character development. But in “The Space Between,” Jason (Hunter Foster, looking poleaxed) is a painfully obvious spokesman for the commitment issues of socially retarded New York singles, and the incremental changes in his character are easily overlooked.
Only Claire (a sweet-voiced Lisa Brescia) has a legitimate arc to play in her final solo, “I’ll Be Here” — and to give it away would spoil the show’s sole moving moment.
With three new shows coming up and significant grant-inducing work behind him, Gwon has hardly trashed his rep as one of those gifted young creatives everyone wants a piece of. He sets his smooth, easily digestible melodies to clever, nonthreatening lyrics that have a remarkable narrative thrust to them. That takes genuine talent.
But so does writing characters with real brains and honest feelings — and that’s one talent Gwon hasn’t quite mastered on his own.