Everythings Turning Into Beautiful
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 29, 2006
In Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's engaging new play, Everythings Turning Into Beautiful, two people spend an evening talking late into the night, sharing their dreams, baring their souls, confronting old demons, and cautiously facing the light of a new day. There's Sam, a singer-songwriter with a couple of ex-wives, a full slate of upcoming family court appearances, and an optimistic romantic streak a mile wide. Then there's Brenda, Sam's songwriting partner, who lives an increasingly hermetic life, and is gun-shy of men and relationships. They're both pushing 40. They have worked together professionally (and platonically) for years, willfully ignoring the mutual attraction they have for each other. For them, it's just a practical matter: they don't want to mess up their friendship or their working relationship. But, when Sam shows up on Brenda's doorstep late one Christmas Eve wanting to take things to the next level, their partnership is put to the test.
If it sounds like there are some similarities between Rosenfeld's play and another well-known two-people-in-a-room play—Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune—I suspect they're intentional. Everythings Turning Into Beautiful and McNally's now-classic play both follow the same general plot and character trajectory. Both plays have an intermission in between each of their respective two acts to indicate the passage of time, but otherwise everything happens in real time. I point out the qualities these two works share not to compare them, but to give people an idea of what to expect from Everythings Turning Into Beautiful: a confident, accomplished play that slowly strips its characters of the useless youthful ideals that no longer suit them, and replaces them with a more clear-eyed (but no less optimistic) adult take on both life and love.
Rosenfeld gives us clues into the inner workings of his protagonists right off the bat. At the top of the play, when Sam arrives at Brenda's Chelsea apartment, its two o'clock in the morning and Sam has just walked all the way from Washington Heights with a guitar strapped to his back. He says he even wrote a song on the way. Clearly, something is on his mind. Every time he brings up the question of "them," and what they're going to do about each other, she changes the subject. Brenda is obviously afraid of talking about this, and her fear sometimes makes her irrational. "I want the cake and to eat it, too, and not get fat," she declares at one point—not exactly realistic. But, at the beginning of Everythings Turning Into Beautiful, neither character's world view is exactly realistic: Sam is hopeful enough to think that love will conquer all, while Brenda wants everything she thinks she deserves to be magically handed to her. By the play's end, they've both learned that their respective positions require a lot more work—albeit, work they're willing to do—than they thought.
It's a clever move on Rosenfeld's part to make Brenda and Sam songwriters, for several reasons. First of all, their material tells us a little more about who they both are and what their aesthetic is. The songs composer Jimmie James crafts for them are of the Ben Harper/John Legend ilk: hook-laden urban funk-folk. Second, whenever one of them wants to take a break, change the subject, or cheer the other person up, Rosenfeld just has them sing a song. This gives both the characters and the audience frequent chances to catch their breath. Last, and perhaps most important, the songs serve as a form of flirtation between Brenda and Sam. No matter what they may have just been talking about, no matter what the song itself is about, music is the bond they share. It's their common ground, and they return to it frequently throughout Everythings Turning Into Beautiful. Whenever one of them sings, it shows the side of theirs that the other character loves the most.
Director Carl Forsman's work here is excellent, guiding the production with a clear and sturdy hand. His direction doesn't call attention to itself, and makes Everythings Turning Into Beautiful feel as if it directed itself (in the best possible way, I might add). The production is further enhanced by its two terrific lead performances. Daphne Rubin-Vega and Malik Yoba have a natural, easy rapport with each other, especially when they sing. Their palpable connection turns Rosenfeld's play into an intimate, private piece that makes the audience sometimes feel as if they're flies on the wall. The design team provide the finishing touches for this fine production: Theresa Squire supplies believable costumes, Josh Bradford's lights create the desired late-night atmosphere, and set designer Beowulf Boritt puts a convincing Manhattan loft apartment on stage.
Anyone who's ever had a late-night heart-to-heart—or, for that matter, anyone who's ever harbored a (not-so-) secret crush on a good friend or co-worker—will find much to identify with in Everythings Turning Into Beautiful. Despite the knocks they've both taken, Rosenfeld's protagonists still find something to believe in. For every jaded thirtysomething in New York, theirs is a tale worth experiencing. Head down to Theatre Row and meet the new Frankie and Johnny.