Isaac Lamb and Christi Miles portray Bob and Helena, taking on demanding roles in which they are tasked with simultaneously depicting the action and providing retrospective commentary. The script, in fact, doesn’t specify whose line is whose, leaving it for the director to decide. Despite director Phillip Coumo’s assured navigation, the shtick can be hard to follow at first, especially when Bob and Helena imitate secondary characters or mock each other. Occasionally shaky accent work makes a few jokes fall flat, as it can be hard to tell when it’s the actors putting on an accent and when it’s the characters.
Anyone paying attention will acclimate to the play’s narrative style quickly though, and will be rewarded with a genuinely hilarious script and intensely likeable performances from two actors with evident chemistry. Midsummer wears its irreverence like a badge of honor: an early dialogue-heavy sex scene sets the tone for a production that holds no punches when it comes to depicting the intimate awkwardness of early relationships, particularly when there's booze and pot involved.
Third Rail at CoHo Rep
Thru Apr 19
Calling this an "early relationship" is no spoiler, by the way, as there’s never much doubt that this chance love affair will extend beyond the first drunken night. This is in part because neither Miles nor Lamb truly sell the supposed "like oil and water" mix of their characters' initial interactions, and in part because the real conflicts at the heart of Midsummer have little to do with the specifics of Bob and Helena's relationship. These are two people coming together as their lives are falling apart, and we’re not surprised to see them grasp each other like driftwood as they feel themselves sinking.
The music is no Rodgers and Hammerstein score, but it isn’t trying to be. Scottish indie rocker Gordon McIntyre’s tunes play a graceful supporting role to the dialogue: instead of imparting crucial plot information, they emphasize mood and theme. Midsummer (A Play without Songs) would have worked just fine, though the audience might have missed some of the heavy stuff amidst the rapid-fire dialogue and comedic debauchery. As it is, Miles’ and Lamb’s singing and sparse guitar and ukulele accompaniment provide welcome breathing room for a script that otherwise offers little space to process its fairly ambitious themes.
The play doesn’t find quite the emotionally resonant landing place I might have expected it to had someone asked me halfway through, but that’s not to say it’s unsatisfying. Grieg’s plot digs Bob and Helena some pretty deep holes to climb out of in a comedy, so it’s not much of a surprise that Midsummer fails to resolve some of the bigger conflicts it raises. At its heart, it’s a love story for people who don’t have everything figured out. And maybe that’s what love is—finding someone with whom you can stand, fearless and empty-handed, in the face of life’s unanswerable questions. I’m not really sure, and neither are Bob and Helena.