Hello Again is a fairly innocuous title, for what has to be one of the most astonishing, audacious, painful, sad, funny and often profoundly touching musicals I’ve ever seen. We witness a series of sexual encounters in which one partner tries to bring love into the mix, mostly without success. It is a black comedy of conflicting needs. It is so incredibly rare to see a show so uncompromising in its bleak, disappointed worldview, it’s tone reminded me of The Threepenny Opera (Brecht,Weill) Sexual Perversity in Chicago (Mamet) and The Pillow Man (McDonagh). I’m not saying rage and despair are the only valid descriptions for being in the adult world of compromise and negotiation, but live long enough, and they seem worse than accurate. Hello Again is beyond powerful. Beyond relevant. It’s so immediate, so frank and forthcoming in its parade of broken toys. The music is moody, melancholy, brash, beckoning, sometimes doggedly hopeful.
The structure of Hello Again is endemic to theme. An older prostitute who works the docks, offers to give a handsome sailor a freebie. He is petulant and derisive. When he finally relents, it’s over quick. He even steals her brooch. We’re so shocked to see the contempt he shows this sweet woman, possessed by urgent loneliness, and before we can recover, we see him with a nurse. “I’ve got an itch,” he sings, while the nurse tries to get some scrap of tenderness from him. His previous encounter has given him entitlement issues, he thinks women are so desperate for him, he needn’t be considerate. By the time he’s finished with her, the nurse is “contaminated” with the same cynicism. She hangs the naïve College Boy she meets from a ceiling fan, then uses her hand. She has turned from frail, vulnerable caregiver to rapacious aggressor. It is a failure of Puritanical society that there’s not much in-between. Next the college boy “infects” a frustrated Young Wife, whose closeted Husband subsequently tries to rape another man (The Young Thing) on the Titanic, and so on.
My shorthand notwithstanding, Hello Again is rich with metaphoric resonance and cultural insight. The Young Wife sings of degrading trysts, yet never seeks a hotel, which would mitigate feelings of shame. The gay screenwriter is forced to service a diva to get her cooperation. The rich Husband seduces The Young Thing from steerage without telling him they’re on a sinking ship. Creator John LaChuisa (book, lyrics and music) uses archetypes for his characters, instead of names to suggest the imposed roles that create barriers. He sets each encounter in a different decade to demonstrate a timelessness to this squalid chain of biped mammals, groping for the shining promise of what sex can actually be. It’s not the distinction between casual and conscientious connection that‘s the problem, it’s forfeiting our humanity for the sake of gratification. The characters in Hello Again are flawed, just like the rest of us. LaChuisa’s brilliance is in brazen, confrontational content, that not only exposes the price of expediency, but reminds us, we can choose to walk away.
Once again, John de los Santos has evinced genius in orchestrating a demanding, volatile story that might have foundered in lesser hands. Working with a scintillating, fearless cast : Beth Albright, John Campione, Peter DiCesare, Adam Garst, Mark Hawkins, Linda Leonard, Laura Lites, G. Shane Peterman, Chad Peterson, Stephanie Riggs, Aaron White, he continues to push the envelope, directing intense, intelligent, fierce and life-changing shows that remind us what theatre can do. If you want to see vibrant, daring, pulse-reviving theatre, don’t miss Hello Again.
Uptown Players presents John LaChuisa’s Hello Again (suggested by the play : La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler) playing October 5th-21st, 2012, at The Kalita Humphreys Theater. 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas, Texas 75219. 214-219-2718. www.uptown players.org