BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
Transport Group lately has been staging shows in special circumstances. Its revival of “The Boys in the Band” bitched away in a fully-finished replica of a ‘60s penthouse, with viewers seated around the living room.
Viewers find themselves at even closer finger-tip reach of the players in Transport Group’s revival of “Hello Again,” which opened Sunday in a fourth floor loft space at 52 Mercer Street in SoHo.
So be prepared to become a voyeur because sex and its emotional urges drive Michael John LaChiusa’s provocative 1994 musical. Bare butts and breasts pop up practically in your face in the very up-close and personal situation of the production staged by Jack Cummings III.
The long, low, shadowy loft – white tin ceiling, a scattering of columns — is decorated with gilt-framed mirrors. The audience is seated on motley chairs surrounding ten white tables that more or less face a central bed (with a mirror above that). A seven-member musical ensemble flanks one side of the room.
Inspired by Schnitzler’s “La Ronde,” the musical relates ten different sexual encounters, each happening in a different decade of the 20th century, with the music elegantly reflecting the sounds of those eras.
LaChiusa mixes up the march of time so that, for instance, the 1930s tryst of a guilt-stricken Young Wife (Alexandra Silber) and an overeager College Boy (Robert Lenzi) in a movie palace – amid explosions of popcorn during a Fred-and-Ginger epic — is then followed by the mid-1950s encounter between the Young Wife (Silber again) and her preoccupied Husband (Bob Stillman) in their bedroom.
The next episode, between the Husband (Stillman) and a coy Young Thing (Blake Daniel), occurs in a stateroom aboard the Titanic and features a seductive tango redolent of the 1912 palm court epoch.
While the bed is sometimes used as a playground, often the actors cavort or seemingly couple upon one of those tables. Crooning the title number, a slow and haunting waltz, a pensive Whore (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) wends her way around the room at the beginning and conclusion of the 105-minute show.
Usually melancholy in nature – with a number of funny moments — “Hello Again” is a sophisticated work of musical theater that neither suffers nor seems particularly enhanced by Transport Group’s extremely intimate treatment. It’s nice to hear LaChiusa’s often lovely score performed without any amplification.
Aptly dressed or undressed in period clothes by designer Kathryn Rohe, Cummings’ fine 10-member ensemble is composed of good-looking, gifted individuals who nonchalantly brush by viewers. Along with the previously mentioned actors, who do well by their roles, Jonathan Hammond is notably intense and rueful during the disco-infused 1970s segment and Elizabeth Stanley strikingly depicts contrasting kinds of nurses – one sorrowful, the other saucy – from other eras.
Variations on “I should have met you in some other time” run through these decades and while these fly-on-the-wall circumstances may disconcert some spectators, there’s no time like the present to encounter such a well-performed rendition of LaChiusa’s time-tripping study in carnal knowledge.
“Hello Again” continues through April 3 at 52 Mercer St., New York. Call (212) 564-0333 or visit www.transportgroup.org.