REVIEW: Living Life to the Fullest in “Hundred Days”
“Hundred Days” at New York Theatre Workshop is a Brooklyn hipster’s dream of a concert musical, but you need not fit that profile to enjoy it. Written by and starring real-life husband and wife “family” band The Bengsons (Shaun and Abigail—ok, they’re residents of Astoria, the Brooklyn of Queens), the driving “punk folk” score (think an edgier Mumford & Sons) is a standout of this unique and beautiful show, which has been in development for several years now in a Goldilocks quest for balance and focus.
Termed a “theatrical event”, “Hundred Days” is a concert song-cycle with a story, akin to “The Outer Space”. Playing themselves, Shaun and Abigail share a love obsession reminiscent of John and Yoko, and the play (er, concert) is the story of that love. The plot points of their journey together are a little unremarkable and near-trite, but the big idea guiding it all—their resolution to live each day as if they will die in one hundred days—is bittersweet, powerful, uplifting, and inspiring.
Commissioned by Z Space in San Francisco with productions at the Know Theatre in Cincinnati and the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival earlier this year, as the name of its current venue implies, this is a piece that feels as though it is still a bit in workshop. The banter between songs that propels the story forward is delivered with heavy doses of acutely self-aware self-deprecating humor—these guys might just be the living embodiment of the stereotypical 20-to-30 something Astoria resident—and the songs burst forth with a lush, fervent musicality that is infectious and honest (an album was released in 2015).
In an austere, brick black box stage under a canopy of pendant light-bulbs, the staging by Anne Kaufman and movement by Sonya Tayeh is simple, clean, and effective. I craved more than the sketch outlines provided via song and spoken word not entirely because they were too restrained, but more so because I was instantly smitten by these performers and their mantra. In spite of the wonderful music and reverie of Shaun and Abigail’s considerable talent, the best, most emotionally-satisfying sequence in the concert ends up being a seemingly-free form conversation between the duo as they imagine the future, decade by decade, and conclude with the decision to get married, mere weeks after meeting.
Scarred by difficult home life and haunted by a recurring dream-vision of her lover learning he only has one hundred days to live, Abigail grapples with embracing the relationship as the two conspire to stretch time by making their days longer and fuller. The concert begins with a simple but poignant truism: “being alive is being in grief”, and explores the inevitable fact of death and how it informs the way we live our lives.
Playing instruments themselves, and backed by a four-piece band who also provide vocals (Colette Alexander, Jo Lampert, Dani Markham and Reggie D. White), Shaun’s mild-mannered dead-pan meekness is as charming as Abigail’s zanier but sweet esoteric neuroticism. They are compelling characters and people who win your heart as they search each other’s, and face “till death do us part” head on.
“Hundred Days” ends its limited run tomorrow, but I have a feeling it will be back, in some form, ideally teased out toward further depth, because within it are kernels of greatness and a message we all need.
Bottom Line: “Hundred Days” is a beautiful and uplifting concert musical about a musical duo’s love story and resolution to live life to the fullest; long in development, it still needs some time to germinate, but the seeds of greatness—compelling characters, a driving score, and a poignant, big idea—are all there.
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East 4th Street
New York, NY
Running Time: 90 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: December 4, 2017
Final Performance: December 31, 2017