One of the real people that The Civilians theater troupe interviewed to put together “Gone Missing” resists the assignment, which is to tell them stories about objects she has lost, such as car keys or rings. “You don’t want to hear about people?” the cast member portraying the old woman asks in the Encores Off-Center revival of the 2003 show. “Well, sorry honey, after you’ve lost as many people as I have, you don’t care about material things.”
Her comment has a particular resonance in this production, which is being presented only twice at City Center, once last night and one tonight. “Gone Missing” is 75 minutes of stories and songs about losing things and even a mock radio interview with a loss expert. But the nine songs were written by Michael Friedman. Friedman was the newly appointed director of Off-Center Encores concert series when he died last year, from AIDS, at the age of 41. It’s easy to see “Gone Missing” as a tribute concert.
The six-member cast, comprised of such top theater talent as Taylor Mac and Susan Blackwell , make the most of Friedman’s eclectic tunes and witty lyrics. His title song feels almost like a subversive parody of the Frank Sinatra song “It Was a Very Good Year”—
“When I was 17, I lost my virginity..
When I was 29, I lost my way…
When I was 42, I lost my mind….”
Although Off-Center Encores is billed as a concert series of old Off-Broadway musicals, it would be a stretch to call “Gone Missing” a musical. It is a comic revue, largely based on interviews shaped by Civilians artistic director Steve Cosson. It’s meant to feel informal and fun, and mostly manages to achieve this in the 2,000+ seat City Center, as it did more easily in the 199-seat Barrow Street Theater where I saw a production in 2007.
In one extended anecdote threaded throughout the piece, a woman who somehow lost one of her expensive shoes (a black Gucci pump) at P.S. 122 harasses the staff there, enlists her friends in the search, plasters the area with fliers. There is a happy ending, or at least a weird and funny one. There are tales of lost dolls, cell phones, rings and teeth. Many of these supposedly true stories drive home how much sentiment and meaning we each attach to inanimate objects.
But not all the losses are in fact about objects – there are a couple about dogs and cats, a few more about more abstract losses, such as innocence. And sometimes the show itself loses its way. It’s hard to see the relevance to the topic of a pet psychic recalling conversations with an old horse and a dog, although the stories are amusing. (The master had asked the pet psychic to find out what his dog really enjoyed. “A hot poop on a cold day,” the dog replied. “Now how am I supposed to tell this man that?”) But some of these digressions I would gladly have missed, such as a cop’s gruesome description of how Colombian warlords kill their victims.
There are two completely fictitious characters, one of them a scholar named Dr. Palinurus, author of “Losers Weepers: A Cultural History of Nostalgia,” and while much of what he says is amusing, he also offers some insights worth pondering:
Nostalgia is just how you feel about the things you lose, and “Sometimes we need to lose something before we can enjoy it.”
City Center, July 11th and 12th, 2018
created by The Civilians, on July 10 and 11 2018, with music and lyrics by Michael Friedman.
Deborah S. Craig,
David Ryan Smith