—Originally published March 9, 2016—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, Gwen and Eleanor saw American Musical Theatre Project’s reading of the new musical “The Museum of Broken Relationships.” Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
“Well, I know exactly what my first reaction walking out is,” Eleanor said confidently, as she exited the revolving door from the Torso Lobby in the Wirtz Center.
“What’s that?” Gwen asked.
“I really want to go there.”
“What, the museum?”
“Oh, 100%,” Gwen agreed. “I know it’s in Zagreb, but I have to go see it now.”
“Maybe I can study abroad in Zagreb,” Eleanor wondered aloud.
“Just to see the museum?”
“Well, no,” Eleanor said. “Remember, they have lots of other things in Zagreb to see. What was the line?”
“I’m trying to remember…” Gwen said, thinking through the reading they had just seen. “Something like, ‘many new museums and trees and coffee, and coffee, and coffee’…I didn’t exactly get the joke, but I laughed.”
“But it wasn’t bad, I think.” Gwen looked at the back of her program, touting the merits of the American Musical Theatre Project. “It certainly needs to be workshopped more, but this is a first reading and all.”
“Yeah, there’s definitely something there,” Eleanor agreed. “I think the story is really interesting, I just had a hard time following it after a while.”
“There’s a kind of shift that happens, isn’t there?” Gwen said. “The first act is all about the museum, but in the second act the museum is just a backdrop. It’s really more about them learning about the past.”
“Which is, like I said, interesting,” Eleanor continued. “I loved that one song the lead guy sang when he’s going through his mother’s letters. The one that ends with him finding the paper and discovering…”
“That was one of the better songs in the show,” Gwen said. “Catchy, well-paced, helping to tell the story. Most of the songs were really important to tell the story. I don’t think there was a superfluous one in there.”
“I can’t think of one. Then again, a lot of the most important moments happen in dialogue.”
“True,” Gwen said, before adding, “Oh, I guess that one song about the reviews coming in was a little long…” She sang what she could remember. “‘But now the verdict’s in…’”
“Oh, right.” Eleanor thought back. “I forgot that one happened.”
“Yeah, it was after that really good song in the gallery. The one that wants to be ‘No Life’ from ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ so hard.”
“Oh, with the critics picking the exhibit apart?”
“That’s the one.”
“Yeah, that one was good. Ooh, and the one where they’re describing all the objects in the museum, when they held up all the pictures?”
“Ah, yes,” Gwen said, remembering. “The long-form song whose title is also the name of the show. A favorite of David Bell, if Waa-Mu is to be believed.”
“Is that the writer? Did he work on Waa-Mu?”
“It’s the director,” Gwen explained. “He’s directed Waa-Mu each year for the last few years.”
“Oh, okay,” Eleanor said. “Yeah, I saw that he directed and wrote the show.”
“He also established AMTP as a recurring Northwestern thing. I don’t know if he’s premiered one of his own shows with it before.”
“Sounds like a pretty smart guy,” Eleanor said.
“He’s a good director,” Gwen agreed. “I’ve never heard his writing before.”
“Well, there’s certainly something in it I really like. It’s hard to put a finger on what it was, though.”
Gwen paused. “What didn’t you like? It’s the opposite of that.”
“Very clever,” Eleanor said, rolling her eyes. “I don’t know. It’s not like there’s something I can point to and say, ‘there’s the thing that needs fixing.’ It’s just a weird kind of mixture; it was good, but in some way it was lacking. You’re better at that than I am.”
“I have little issues throughout it,” Gwen said. “One of them was casting the same actress as both of the grandmothers—or, the mother and the grandmother…”
“Yes, yes, definitely,” Eleanor said. “I forgot that one. Yeah, that was really difficult to tell apart.”
“I was convinced the two leads were going to end up being related or something.”
“That would have been an interesting twist,” Eleanor said. “But I did want them to end up together, so that would have been weird.”
“The show wanted you to want them together,” Gwen continued. “You remember how those two intern assistant people were trying to push them into going on a date, right? The moment the guy entered I knew they would end up together. This is just the way people write plays with male and female leads.”
“Weird,” Eleanor said. “They would have made really good siblings.”
“That’s actually one of the other small issues I had with the show,” Gwen said. “It’s like, they figure out their backgrounds, and where they come from, and then…”
Gwen remained silent for a few moments.
“What?” Eleanor asked.
“Exactly!” Gwen responded. “They just get together and the show ends! We don’t even get to see how they’re really affected by their new pasts.”
“Huh. I see what you’re saying.”
“They spend the whole of the first act wondering about what it will mean when they find out about their past, and then the conclusion of the show is them finding out about their past. But they never answer what it means or why this changes them. That’s a strange thing to leave out.”
“Plus,” Eleanor said, “they end on a really awkward note with that attempt to kiss.”
“I think it’s intentionally awkward.”
“Still,” Gwen said, “this is what readings are for. Seeing the show on its feet, in the mouths of actors and singers and figuring out what needs to be changed in the future. Like you said, it’s got potential to be something meaningful, universal.”
“Well, as universal as a play about nice middle-class white people finding themselves can be.”
Gwen put a hand to her head, and sighed.
“Why did I know you were going to bring that up?”
“Well, I almost wasn’t going to!” Eleanor said, a bit louder than before. “I was actually thinking of whether or not the assistants could be something other than white in future productions during intermission.”
“They could be,” Gwen agreed.
“Yeah, but then…” Eleanor paused for emphasis. “But then, we enter Act II, and here comes the foreign side character with a thick accent and no clear goal other than helping our two white leads. Is…”
Eleanor pulled her program out of her bag.
“Is…Aaron Simon Gross even the slightest bit Croatian?”
“The Croatians are white.”
“Even so,” Eleanor said, putting the program back. “I doubt that is his real accent, or the real accent and character of any Croatian cab driver that would bother helping two confused American tourists.”
“He’s bumbling, but he’s got a good heart and everything.”
“Why is he there?”
“To…help the two leads?” Gwen said, speaking slowly.
“But what does he want?”
“To…help the two leads?”
“That doesn’t make him a bad character, though.”
“Well, I certainly found him to be discomforting,” Eleanor said. “Once I had that angle in my head, I couldn’t get it to leave throughout the entire second act. Just a whole lot of white people on stage.”
“But it wasn’t a bad show, was it?” asked Gwen.
“No, it was a fine show. It needs work, but it’s a fine show. But it just…” Eleanor slowed down. “…felt weird to me once I saw that.”
“Hm. At least, like you said,” Gwen said, continuing the conversation from before, “they could cast non-white actors in basically every role. Right?”
Eleanor sighed. “I guess so.”
Gwen looked ahead. They were almost home.
“I wonder if they had to let the museum know that they were writing this,” Eleanor said.
“Probably,” Gwen said. “Maybe they didn’t need permission, but they have to have let them know.”
“People who donated things—that’s a good target group to see the show.”
“It’d certainly be strange to see their things on display like this,” Gwen said.
“Huh,” Eleanor said.
“I think,” Gwen continued, “the people who don’t know the full backstory get the most fun out of filling in the details themselves. That’s kind of how the museum works.”
“Well,” Eleanor responded, “I have a hunch or two on the details behind the fire axe.”