nytheatre.com review by Claire Kiechel
August 11, 2012
First things first, if you can get a ticket to the new musical Independents playing at Theater 80 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival, you should go. It’s a beautiful new musical; Marina Keegan’s book is funny and sad in all the right places, Stephen Feigenbaum and Mark Sonnenblicks' songs are clever and heartfelt, and Charlie Polinger’s direction is flawless. Together with its excellent ensemble cast, jaunty onstage band, and innovative design, it’s a shame that there are so few chances to see Independents. Hopefully producers will take note, and this deserving production will be remounted again.
The play follows a group of young people living on an 18th century ship, who use historical reenactment as a cover for their marijuana smuggling business. When Chris, their leader and supplier, goes missing, Liam decides to try reenactment for real to pay off his inherited boat’s mortgage to keep his friend group intact and his girlfriend happy. With the help of their new intern and theater nerd, Carl, the crew finds success with their bizarre and musical tale about the ship’s battle over British fisheries during the Revolutionary War. But when the real world intrudes again, Liam must decide how much he will do to keep doing so little.
With its drunken parties, tight-knit community, and spontaneous sing-a-longs, the ship of Independents feels a lot like college. And the questions the characters ask are particularly relevant to recent college graduates. Who will we be once we’re off this “ship”? How will we ever find “our people” again? Can’t we stay a little longer, please? The characters are determined to “live life to the fullest” even if that means ignoring the pressing concerns of the future. Almost all of the characters are afraid of being alone, and yet, as Charlie Polinger’s simple and beautiful staging illustrates, it is possible to be lonely within a group.
These are deeper concerns and questions than ones often addressed in musicals, which is why it is so heartbreaking that Independents’ very promising book writer Marina Keegan was killed only five days after graduating from Yale. There are no words to express what a loss this is. From the evidence in Independents, Keegan was not only a first class wit and a smart dramatist, she was also a poet with the type of word-magic that the world cannot afford to lose. “We’re alone until we fall in love,” says one of her characters, “Humans want to hold other humans.”
Keegan’s collaborators hold her spirit in this production, and with their generous talents and imaginations, they demonstrate that they are still her “people.”