Friday, October 5, 2018

“One Hundred Days: The power Of Love at La Jolla Playhouse

What is it about one hundred days? In politics it’s used as a standard by which to measure the accomplishments a president makes at the beginning of his/her administration? In business it’s a benchmark to measure how well a person might learn a new job. For married couple Shaun and Abigail Bengsons it’s a time for them to cram a lifetime of love and life into their own love affair/ life’s story, or ‘till death do us part’. ("Vows")

It doesn’t come as a surprise though that some limit on their time together comes into the picture given the personalities of the two. Their inauspicious meeting was rocky from the outset until it became quite intense. In a heartbeat, one or both might have walked away. She’s the one with the flamboyant personality and he, the more reserved. 

It’s even apparent in their dress. She in cowboy boots, spangled dress and leather jacket, always moving in and out of musical scenes. He is in Jeans, black tie and plaid shirt, black jacket, glasses, beard and, sandy hair, (costumes Sydney Gallas) and the shy half of this talented duo. 

But that’s not it at all. As the story goes, they met, fell in love and got married in three weeks. An auto accident sent her over the ledge and headed for the back door. 
Abigail and Shaun Bengsom
Before that however Abigail tells us in agonizing and excruciating pain that when she was 15 her family went through some traumatic event (‘some kind of an emotional upending) that haunts her to this day invading her dreams with visions and prophesies including the fact that the love of her life would die after 100 days into their relationship.

“This is not a story about what happened when I was fifteen. Tonight we are going to tell you a story about what happened next.” “The love of my life came to me in a beam of light.” In my world they call that B'Shret, or meant to be. 

Their lives were on the up swing. She moved in with him, broke up with her then boyfriend. They shared stories about each other, (‘How do you like your coffee?’ ‘My father was a Lutheran Pastor’.) catching up on the usual foreplay of when boy meets girl.

He had to tell his best friend Max, who was driving across country to move in with him, that he would have to live somewhere else.  She admired the fact that he was a musician. She thought he was the best musician ever. “Wanna start a band?”

They were headed for a rehearsal for a gig (anti-folk folk punk old time neo soul band) and driver Shaun rear -ended a UPS truck. His prognosis for recovery was not good. 

A friend of mine used to tell me that just when things were going well, life got in the way.

Going back to her childhood trauma put her at loose ends. Should she stay? Should she leave? Sean in the Emergency room, on the examining table, sounds of him hitting the steering wheel, the florescent bulbs, I see him fall. What if the doctor walks in and tells me he has one hundred days to live?
Cast of "Hundred Days"
In her dreams she sees Shaun living one hundred days but they challenge those odds: “We’ll have Halloween in the morning, Christmas in the afternoon, Birthdays at sundown.” “We’ll make the snow in the freezer for winter. We’ll grow geraniums in the tub for spring. We’ll watch the traffic outside our window and call it the Thanksgiving Day Parade.” But the pain of love and loss remains.

In a gut-wrenching “Three Legged Dog” anguish and rage and despair la Joplinesque finds its roots in her voice and captures the essence of what that loss would feel like. I was glued to my seat, mesmerized and unable to move.  

Abigail is one half of the Abigail and Shaun twosome in this relatipnship relationship and the back and forth of it in a performance/story concert that is directed by Anne Kauffman, UCSD Grad. and written by Abigail and Sarah Gancher with music and lyrics by the couple themselves. It is at the La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Forum through Oct. 21st.

They are assisted by a most talented quartet of backup singers – musicians- Ashley Baier (drums/percussion), El Beh (a five star cellist), Barrie Lobo McLain, (Vocals/ accordion/ guitar) and Reggie D. White (vocals/keyboards). Shaun plays guitar, accordion and keyboards and Abigail plays guitar and a floor tom. All make easy transitions from one instrument to another and occasionally, lend vocals to the already story.

This is not what one might call a traditional musical; it’s more a concert musical. It is as much story told in song as singing/performing and alternating by telling their story orally. The give and take between husband and wife is playful, somber, loving and informative but aside from the love commitment and the verbal give and take, it was the music that grabbed me.

Cast of "Hundred Days" with Abigail in center and Shawn on stool
“I want/ A hundred days Of bright light/ Hey Hey away/ A hundred Days/ You’re my man/ Of bright light/Away”. “The Years Go By”, “Lift Me”, “The Long Goodbye” and “Bells” the first song they wrote together, are but a few of the dozen or so.

The husband and wife team and their fellow travelers had me glued to my seat. Some of the music is definitely beyond my musical grade level but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

 There was so much more going on around me that shifting from story to music to watching the talented musicianship and different sounds (Nicholas Pope) of the other four on stage to being star struck by the lights, (red, orange, yellow, green purple footlights), two spotlights and can’t tell you how many hanging light bulbs caught my eyes, all created by Co-scenic designer/lighting designer Andrew Hungerford.

In another magical moment, columns of crystalline looking salt/sand came cascading from the ceiling (Salt Palace”) on to Hungerford’s two level set with instruments placed strategically for easy access  with enough room for movement director Sonya Tayeh’s well rehearsed choreography.

Did you ever wonder if you knew what the course of events were going to look like between “I Do” and “Till Death Do Us Part”? If you did, would you do it all over again? Of course you would.
The Bengson’s “Hundred Days” is living proof.
See you at the theatre.

Dates: Through Oct. 21st
Organization: La Jolla Playhouse
Phone: 858-550-1010
Production Type: Musical Memoir
Where: 2910 La Jolla Village Drive La Jolla, CA 92037
Ticket Prices: $35.00-55.00
Venue: Mandell Weiss Forum
Photo: Jim Carmody

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