In “Hundred Days,” a musically engaging autobiographical concert by The Bengsons, Abigail and Shaun Bengson tell us they met one another at “the first rehearsal of a massive anti-folk folk-punk old-timey neo soul band,” and they were married three weeks later. Their relationship terrified both of them – shy Shaun because he feared Abigail would leave him; anxious Abigail because when she was 15 years old she had had a dream that she would meet the love of her life, but that he would only have 100 days left to live.
Abigail’s dream explains the title, and it even somewhat justifies the description of the show by the New York Theatre Workshop as a “raw story about….loving as if you only had a hundred days to live.” But one might get a misleading impression about “Hundred Days” based on that description, as well as the venue, and the theater professionals involved in it, including playwright Sarah Gancher, who’s given credit as the co-writer of the book, and Anne Kauffman, a first rate director whose most recent shows include Mary Jane on the same stage, and Marvin’s Room on Broadway.
“Hundred Days,” which has been in development for years and was presented in somewhat altered form as part of the Public Theater’s Under the Radar festival in January, is best appreciated as a live concert by The Bengsons, which is the name the couple gives not just to themselves but to their band as well. For this latest version of the show, their band features four musicians besides the couple, and they are all great. Jo Lampert, best known as the heroine in last year’s Joan of Arc: Into the Fire, is not just a strong singer; she turns out to be a mean accordion player. The band gives a tuneful, soulful concert of The Bengson’s original folk-rock songs.
To view “Hundred Days” as anything but a concert, or at most a song cycle, however – to accept it as a musical, or judge it as a work of theater – I must then acknowledge the frustration of trying to follow a story that is often vague in its details and mumbly in its presentation.
Shaun and Abigail are personable singer-songwriters and sometimes (especially Shaun) droll storytellers, but they are clearly not trained actors nor experienced dramatists. Abigail tells us that when she was 15 something terrible happened to her family, but she only hints at what that was. Their lyrics are often poetically elliptical (“My skin is made of a thousand doors Opening, opening”), revealing internal states of emotion rather than anything going on externally. In what comes closest in the show to an extended scene, Shaun and Abigail re-create a conversation they had during an early date, imagining what their future would be like, decade by decade. As they sit next to each other and talk into the microphones, picturing their forthcoming life, Abigail says things like “I feel like in my 40s I want to, like, meet a lot of authors and, like, learn how to grow vegetables,” and Shaun says things like “Um I… feel like maybe I’ll wear suits in my 50s” – their prophecies delivered at an energy level just slightly higher than the scene between Winston and Julia in “1984” after they’ve been brainwashed.
In an effort at stagecraft, light bulbs suspended over the stage occasionally bob up or bob down from the rafters. Other lights, vertical fluorescent tubes, occasionally flow up or down from the floor. Most dramatically, a spotlight at one point focuses on two thin streams of sand flowing down on either side of the otherwise darkened stage. That’s a metaphor for the passage of time, you see.
The 90 minutes of “Hundred Days” passed more quickly for me once I treated the spoken words as patter between the songs, rather than “the book” of a musical.
New York Theatre Workshop
Book by The Bengsons and Sarah Gancher; Music and Lyrics by The Bengsons; Directed by Anne Kauffman with movement direction by Sonya Tayeh
Set designers: Kris Stone, Andrew Hungerford
Lighting designer: Andrew Hungerford
Costume designer: Sydney Gallas
Sound designer: Nicholas Pope
Cast: Abigail Bengson, Shaun Bengson Jo Lampert, Reggie D. White, Colette Alexander,
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Hundred Days is scheduled to run through December 31, 2017