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'Long Story Short': A Lifetime in a Song

This two-person musical tells a love story that lasts a lifetime at 59E59.

Photos by Matthew Murphy

We first meet Charles and Hope at age 25, at the end of what appears to have been a relatively so-so date. Or "date." And yet, before long, we're off on a whirlwind tour of love, marriage, children, divorce, reconciliation, grandchildren and more, as their life together flashes before our eyes in just 90 minutes. This is Long Story Short.

The new musical by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda tells the story of two people who, despite themselves, fall in love and stay that way. The story is based on the David Schulner play An Infinite Ache, readapted by Prospect Theater Company in pop rock musical style. It's a show full of delightfully awkward interactions, where a young man on the first date imagines sitting in "Rocking Chairs" watching their future grandchildren play on the lawn.

It's even more surprising when that imagined future comes true. Hope and Charles spend their entire lives either looking forward or looking back, caught in any time but now, as the recurring musical themes remind us of the dreams that drew them together and never truly leave them. Whether that's rocking chairs, a trial marriage to make their mistakes before a real one to get it right or the grief over a lost child, Long Story Short is constantly folding in on itself, all time existing at once.

Actors Bryce Ryness (Charles) and Pearl Sun (Hope) do a phenomenal job with the passage of time, aging seamlessly as years pass in the blink of an eye, just as believable as senior citizens as they are as twenty-somethings. Ryness in particular is a perfectly convincing Jewish grandfather, portraying his character throughout the years with consistency and a naturalistic style that nonetheless merges easily into song. Sun has fewer recognizable quirks and gestures that repeat throughout the play, and starts at a clearly greater level of maturity, but has a different compelling arc as she learns to overcome her first child's sudden death and later the perils of dating after divorce while in your 50s.

In fact, Long Story Short is also a story of loss and grief, and how it evolves over time. Hints of their son Buddy make brief appearances when you least expect it, ultimately tearing apart a marriage that at first seems like it might actually survive the trauma. But just like everything else in this show, from love to religion, emotions never just go away.

The mishmash of tones present in the musical is distracting at first, silly and playful at one moment and deathly serious the next, but before long you realize that the energy of the play changes as the characters age. The passage of time is accomplished mostly in that changing atmosphere and in the actors' performance, rather than the somewhat murky set and costume transitions. The set is meant to represent several different locations, from a studio apartment to a family home, but with the backdrop and most of the furniture remaining the same, much of that effect is lost.

A few of the transitions are quite brilliant, however, from a pile of laundry transforming into a baby to Charles' "Fragile As Love" phone montage after the first breakup. And though the pair of characters' interactions with their never-seen daughter are somewhat awkward, the way the parents' lives vanish in an instant in a highlight reel of their daughter's growing up will feel all too real to many members of the audience.

Other particularly great moments include the absurd ode to the joy of groping one's partner, "Live Like This," and the hilarity of Hope's failed dating experiences in her fifties. The music of Long Story Short is catchy and often amusing, if not groundbreaking, allowing our beloved couple to wear their hearts on their sleeves in a way that would be impossible in a straight play. They will leave you laughing in some moments and in tears in others, a truly touching and engaging story.

Long Story Short plays at 59E59 through March 29.

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