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Photograph by Tracy Martin
LIFE CYCLE: Hope (Pearl Sun) and Charles (Ben Evans) star in TheatreWorks' new play, 'Long Story Short.'

Pair Game

TheatreWorks explores a life's relationship in new musical 'Long Story Short'

By Steve Palopoli

IF THIS review of Long Story Short were anything like the plot, I'd be wrapping it up about now. The new musical from TheatreWorks does not take its title lightly—in roughly two hours, it covers the entire lifetime of a relationship, spanning decades while staying focused on the smallest details of any given day in the life. And the magic of this latest collaboration between writers Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda (derived from An Infinite Ache by David Schulner) is in the incredible moments they snatch out of the blur we all live, year in and year out.

If Milburn and Vigoda's names are familiar, it's probably because their last production for TheatreWorks, 2004's Striking 12, was a surprise hit that subsequently had a successful run off-Broadway. Former partners in the Bay Area band GrooveLily, the pair have a poppy, highly caffeinated songwriting sensibility that allows them to be funny, poignant, edgy and even occasionally shocking while powering through more than two dozen numbers, jumping forward in time without warning—and most importantly, never losing the audience.

The story is so simple it conceals the complexity that is spring-loaded inside of it: Charles (Ben Evans) and Hope (Pearl Sun), after their first date, wind up back in Charles' bedroom. With both of them anxious and insecure, Hope wants to sleep for just a little while. Within a couple of minutes, and without any break in the scene, they are suddenly weeks into their relationship, and the single bedroom set remains the constant as each new phase of their relationship bursts onto the stage in the same manner.

The time-propulsion device is clever and easy to follow. At first, Long Story Short whisks through Charles and Hope's love story with a relentlessly upbeat tone; the songs even seem to blend together. But by the remarkably choreographed "One Hundredth"—a song about the perils not of the bad times but of the just-OK times—it becomes clear that Milburn and Vigoda are on to some bigger truths about the fragile nature of love and the indelible bond that history creates between two people. They cover a lot of ground, but they're not afraid to trip an emotional land mine on the way.

As a two-person cast with entire lives to live in one night, Evans and Sun are at the top of their game. They have to build, tear down and rebuild their characters again and again, while maintaining an integrity that makes them real, and they do so without fail. Tracy Brigden pulls off wonderful things here with what many directors would find to be limiting material. She clearly grasped that it's the tiniest details in this epic setup that make it work. And some of the transitions—as when an argument over laundry morphs in front of the audiences' eyes into something completely different—are extraordinary. Special notice should go to scenic designer Neil Patel and lighting designer Andrew Ostrowski for the tonal shifts they use to transform the bedroom set in the most subtle, but essential, of ways.

 LONG STORY SHORT, a TheatreWorks production, plays Tuesday–Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Dec. 28 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $27–$65. (650.903.6000)

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