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Senior thesis 'Elegies' brings audience to tears

By Emily Salloway
On April 24, 2012

I'm going to cut to the chase here. Elegies: A Song Cycle, Leah Carnow '12 and Mindy Cimini's '12 joint senior thesis production, was musically the best show I have seen at Brandeis. The casting was absolutely perfect: not one of the five actors struck an offchord.

Admittedly, the theme of the show itself was a downer. The production featured song after song about death, and many of the numbers told the story of the playwright, William Finn's, acquaintances. Carnow and Cimini's sparse staging seemed to move the focus away from the development of distinct characters and anecdotes: instead, with Cimini's piano center stage, the production concentrated more on the music and emotions of the show. In fact, I didn't realize the characters were based on real friends and colleagues of Finn's until I did some research online later that night.

Judging by the fact that many members of the audience cried through its 90-minute entirety, I think not clarifying the play's connection to its writer and defining its characters with costumes or information in the playbill was a successful choice. It was easier to relate to when the stories created feelings of loss and appreciation rather than a series of eulogies. An especially emotional song was Jackie Theoharis' '14 rendition of "Anytime (I Am There)," during which Theoharis' flexibility in tone and dynamics proved to be vital in creating a strong emotional effect.

There were also moments in the show when the vocalists' voices eclipsed the lyrics and the whole of the Laurie Theater was overcome by the wave of sound. One of the most impressive of these instances was when powerhouse Sara Schoch MFA in Theater Arts Acting '14 sang "Infinite Joy." Several people nodded at her talent, seemingly in acknowledgment that Schoch has it, whatever it is, before erupting into applause at her final note.

Ben Oehlkers' '12 "Joe Papp" was spunky and soulful and he, along with the backup vocals of Robert St. Laurence '11 and Jeremy Weinberg '12, created a fun but meaningful reminiscence of Papp's, an American theater producer and director, no-nonsense personality.

St. Laurence told the rather unexpected story of his character's three dogs in "My Dogs." While the song was funny and lighter than the rest of the musical numbers, it still made poignant and heartfelt points about how the death of a pet can have a significant impact on our lives. St. Laurence gave the song a strong dose of humor and humility.

Weinberg, who was cast to portray Finn himself (although I did not get this from his performance), held his own in songs like "Mark's All-Male Thanksgiving" where he bitter-sweetly told the story of Finn's attendance at gay rights advocate Mark Thalen's party. Weinberg had a strong stage presence and seemingly no fear, as he put on an accent for the song, "Venice," about a former lover named Bolek from Poland.

The show also touched upon the events of September 11, but after Elegies' whirlwind of emotions, the tragedy didn't hold the same effect at the end of the show. The unrelenting onslaught of reminiscence and pain became almost too much at that point. Despite the actors' dedication and pure talent, the play itself was a one-topic overload, and some of the numbers missed their marks, regardless of how much thought went into making them visually interesting and vocally memorable.

Still, Carnow and Cimini did a fine job of taking a play that could have been their kiss of death (no pun intended) and giving it a sense of variety and a set of vocalists who made it worth sitting through.


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