THE STORY OF MY LIFE by Neil Bartram and Brian Hill, directed by Michael Bush (CanStage). At Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). Runs to December 9. $20-$55. 416-368-3110. See Continuing, page 134. Rating: NNN
Canstage is opening its Berkeley space season with a song. Actually, 25 of them. The Story of My Life is an intimate musical aptly performed in this intimate space.
The two-hander by Neil Bartram (music and lyrics) and Brian Hill (book) explores the lifelong friendship between Thomas ( Brent Carver ) and Alvin ( Jeffrey Kuhn ). It begins after Alvin commits suicide, and despite their recent estrangement Thomas upholds a childhood pact to write Alvin's eulogy. Defining moments of their shared lives are played as flashbacks.
From the outset this show is unique. What a treat to walk into a small theatre space and hear live musicians warming up. Glenn Davidson 's ethereal set, with its tiny houses and powdery snow, enchantingly captures Thomas's memories.
Both Carver and Kuhn shine in their individual monologues and songs. Although Kuhn's speaking voice is at times too affected, Carver's incredible emotional and technical range is sublime.
But the play suffers because they don't maintain a consistently believable connection.
Director Michael Bush 's staging keeps them so busy that they avoid the still, intimate moments that only best friends can share.
Too many song reprisals bring the energy down. Mrs. Remington, about a favourite first grade teacher, is a stand-out musical number that's worth hearing again, but the fourth time you hear Saying Goodbye you begin to want to take it literally. And while Bartram and Hill have written some witty lyrics that might make even Stephen Sondheim jealous, the work lacks a show-stopper.
On opening night, however, Carver did literally stop the show. Persistent sound problems eventually caused him to lose it mid-scene. Breaking character, he refused to continue until the sound stopped. Eventually, Kuhn brilliantly restarted the scene, eliciting a roar of applause from the appreciative audience.
With some further cutting, shaping and technical tweaking, The Story Of My Life could live a very long time.