'Falsettos' explores the darker side of life

Published: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 1:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 1:42 p.m.

Marvin might be a typical Jewish dad who wants the perfect family except that he would love to sit down and break bread with Whizzer, the younger guy he left his wife Trina and son Jason for, and coexist happily ever after.



What: Musical about a bisexual man who leaves his family to be with his male lover.
When: Opens today, showtimes 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through Oct. 25
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St.
Tickets: $10, $8 seniors, students, educators and military personnel, available at Book Gallery West or at the door
Information: (361-1424)

In "Falsettos," a sort of chamber-musical piece opening tonight at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, Jim Jarrell takes on the dual role of Marvin and director.

Marvin feels guilty for splintering his family in several chaotic directions and so he sends his ex-wife to his longtime psychiatrist Mendel for help.

And Whizzer decides monogamy is for the birds, so he flees Marvin to roam afield and Trina ends up marrying the shrink.

The script is by composer William Finn, a writer who generates tender Soundheim-inspired lyrical lines. The work is semi-autobiographical for Finn who also penned "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."

"Falsettos," however, explores a darker side of life as the family wrestles with the hole in its new identity and Whizzer's struggle with AIDS.

"I personally have friends living with HIV and AIDS," says Jarrell. "As a gay man I can certainly relate to the story of Marvin's inner turmoil of wanting to keep his family happy and wanting to keep himself happy.

"I'm using this play as a reminder for the community that no matter what preferences and identities we have, we're all people we all seek out love."

"Falsettos" is in some respects a combination of two one-act musicals. After penning the first act, Finn let a decade unfold until serving up the second.

The result is the first half is more dialogue-driven while the second is a goody bag of a hum-ready songbook.

"The music is very difficult particularly because the first act isn't very sing-songy," Jarrell says. "Act two is more melodic. People feel more drawn into the music and that's when it becomes apparent that these two pieces were not written at the same time."

Jarrell has strung the acts into a cohesive whole by embracing their differences and emphasizing time's tendency to change people."

Working with a spare set, the cast will exchange Trina's wooden chair and end table for Whizzer's lustful bed as the New York scenes shuffle to and fro.

"We're doing it black box," Jarrell says. "As a cast we'll be moving pieces of furniture away and up against the wall as scenes dissolve."

Jarrell says he once saw "Falsettos" performed as a stage-read, with the audience awash in tears by the final moments.

"I remember distinctly that of everyone around us, none of us had dry eyes and I just think that's the power of the show," Jarrell says. "There are so many sad moments, I fully expect people to get teary-eyed, at least I hope so. If we're doing our jobs right they should."

The play is sponsored in part by the Bureau of HIV through the Florida Department of Health. It is also being produced in conjunction with the Gainesville PRIDE on Oct. 18 at the Downtown Community Plaza.

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