I went into the Great Canadian Theatre Company to watch Ordinary Days without knowing anything about it. I did not want any spoilers and wanted to experience the play without prior framing or narrative influence, which is a rare thing since usually some elements of a story or genre would draw someone into a performance venue in the first place. For instance, I did not know it was a musical, and was delighted when the first character burst out in song, setting the tone for the ordinary-ness of the story slivers that were about to unfold.
Spoiler Alert: Ordinary Days tells the story of two strangers who meet, and two lovers who deepen the commitment of their relationship. The two stories juxtapose and intertwine, culminating in a scene that references the American tragedy narrative around the World Trade Centre. The contrast between existential exploration between friends and breaking down of barriers to vulnerability between lovers is carried forward through catchy and lyrically clever songs.
The characters tell contemporary stories that speak to a middle class millennial experience of the world. Set in New York, we are taken through geographic and cultural sights and sites with a simple but artistic backdrop and set design reminiscent of minimalist architectural models.
The delivery was impeccable. Having been in a few musicals myself, I can appreciate the challenge of acting, singing and choreography, and the dedication it takes to put them together. Not only were the performances flawless, but even half way up the seat rows I could see each facial expression so clearly, and more importantly the dynamic melodies and simple repetitions of key phrases to move the story forward allowed the audience to keep track despite getting lost in some emotion.
I was particularly touched by some of the songs, which quite frankly moved me to tears, when it came to talking about loss of a former lover and the magnitude of this loss in the context of major political events. Cut this against the friendship storyline where the millennial art-newsie invites his grad school drop-out friend to re-think he life, and as long as I don’t have to think about how on earth any of these folks are paying the rent, the ordinary-ness of their struggles also offer a reprieve: yes, it’s OK for Ordinary Days to be dull, difficult or dramatic. In this, they can be beautiful, and inspiring when we allow ourselves to look at things another way.
The story begs us to consider the ordinary parts of our lives.
That said, though a small cast, the stories were all fairly middle class and embodied by white-presenting actors, which reminded me that English theatre is still very much a white, middle class and heteronormative space, and while most of the stories has relatable elements that touch on universal themes such as loss, friendship, love, change, and discovery, the narratives remained a bit narrow in how they were expressed.
Since my preference is always for local stories, I must admit that another story about New York reminded me that so much of the rest of the world is actually far more ordinary than the big city people flock to for economic opportunity.
Still, allowing myself to suspend the critical social justice voice in me, I appreciated it at a deeper level that transcends the characters or the narratives. The story begs us to consider the ordinary parts of our lives. The quirks that make us who we are, the conflicts that define our most intimate relationships, the unusual stories that make our friendships amazing and the artefacts that recall beloved memories. More than anything else, this play was about those artefacts.
Despite being about being ordinary, this musical was more than a catchy and accessible story. It also gives a few hidden nuggets to the art lover. True to the postmodern genre that cross-references, in addition to the architectural model-style set design, there are multiple references to literature through Deb’s quest for retrieving her lost thesis notebook about Virginia Woolf, and the characters pepper in references to Klimt, Dali and Philip Glass. Though my favourite was the joke about confusing Manet with Monet.
Though with little dialogue, the 90-minute play seemed to fly by through a dynamic rotation of each character taking or sharing the spotlight, and the tongue in cheek humour was refreshingly contemporary. This play is true to its post-modern era and flirts with being a gesamtkunstwerk, offering art lovers something to chew on, and philosophers something to ponder. And while the melodies have been replaying in my head, what haunts me even more is the image of hundreds of flyers catching wind on their way down from the high rise reminding us that there are so many extraordinary things about being ordinary.
Ordinary Days is playing at the GCTC from October 31 to November 19, 2017 and if you love musicals and intertwining stories you should go support your local theatre scene and get a ticket.