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Erica Jong once compared the rhythm of ending a marriage to the rhythm of a courtship, only backward. You try to start again but return to the blame game, over and over. Falsettos captures all of that, but takes out the rhythm in favor of melody, without losing any of the punch.
Even if you’re familiar with William Finn’s off-Broadway trio of one-act musicals that threw together themes of love, AIDS, family, and a hearty helping of Jewish neuroticism, Ganymede’s solid black-box reprisal of Falsettos—-which comprises Finn’s second and third musicals, penned with James Lapine—-is still worth your time. For the rest of you, Falsettos is less about the sound of music and more about the sound of your parents trying to convince you to see a shrink after your dad leaves your mother for another man, and your mom leaves your dad for that aforementioned shrink.
The story in the work’s first act, “March of the Falsettos,” focuses on Marvin (Jeffrey Johnson, who also directs) a father in the clean-cut, all-American vein—-save for the fact that he’s in therapy, and has left his wife Trina (Lisa Carrier Baker) for Wizzer (Michael Vitaly Sazonov). This, unusually, sends the grief-stricken Trina to Marvin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Mendel (Tony Gudell), for memorable sessions overflowing with bitterness and neuroses. Dr. Mendel falls madly in love with Trina, and she, more out of resignation than anything, complies to his affections. And bearing the brunt of this madness is Marvin and Trina’s 10-year-old son Jason (Noah Chiet), who, in addition to dealing with his father’s coming out and his parent’s divorce, is now being forced to have couch sessions with Dr. Mendel—-who either is the only practicing therapist in the city or is giving them a hell of a family discount.
“Falsettoland” is sort of the more morose, distant cousin of the previous work. The characters have all settled into kind of a bizarre but functioning family unit, and Jason is about to have his bar mitzvah. However, all is well for not too long, when Marvin’s lover, Wizzer, is diagnosed with AIDs. “Falsettoland”starts off effecting, due mostly to the troupe’s good chemistry, and the always-present sardonicism of Finn’s songwriting. Then it kind of erupts into a sordid mess of hospital drama, anxiety, and existential despair.
The plays can feel pretty emotionally heavy-handed, but Falsettos shines in its moments of sheer hilarity. When Trina and Marvin temporarily abandon their marital drama to convince their son to see a therapist, they earnestly reason, “No one is saying you’re a sick neurotic/but you could use some help.” As Jason, Noah Chiet’s reactions are priceless, especially when he turns to the audience with a look that reads, “Can you believe this shit?”
Falsettos runs until October 10th at Noi’s Nook, 1809 14th Street NW Tickets can be purchased at ganymedearts.org