There are three 35-minute solo musicals in the 2016 edition of the biannual Inner Voices series, and one of them is a wonder. The Pen is about a woman named Laura who suffers from what seems to be a germophobic form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and who discovers a mysterious, chewed-up purple pen in her purse. At first, her resulting panic seems comical; but it becomes genuinely poignant, even harrowing, as lyricist Dan Collins and composer Julianne Warwick Davis—the team behind Southern Comfort—dig deeper into Laura’s isolation and mania.
Laura is played by a tremendously impressive Nancy Anderson, who digs into the role with the fervor of an actor who knows that she couldn’t ask for a better part to show off her multitude of talents. The beauty of her vocals is equaled by the range and precision of her acting in a highly demanding part; it’s an immaculate performance. “They call me crazy / But in that cute and friendly way,” Laura sings of her coworkers. “Like it means funny / Like it means nothing.” Anderson is something.
Anthology shows, however, are almost always a mixed bag, and Inner Voices is no exception. The Pen is penned inside two other brief works. One, The Booty Call, is an enjoyable look at a songwriter who records improvisational demos to help him work through his discomfort with casual sex. The gifted Michael Thurber, who wrote the music and cowrote the words with director Saheem Ali, performs it all by himself, playing multiple instruments and layering tracks on an onstage soundboard. The lyrics are not always as strong as the engaging, R&B–flavored music, but Thurber is a likable performer.
It’s unfortunate that in order to reach these two shows one must endure the first musical of the evening, Ellen Fitzhugh and Ted Shen’s busy and tiresome Just One “Q”. T. Oliver Reid plays a nursing-home orderly in 1961 Arkansas, who narrates a story about two quarrelsome old women revisiting past battles over a game of Scrabble. “I got keys t’all these rooms, but none t’ unlock these hearts,” he sings in the heavy-handed opening number, and the show does not improve from there. The good news is that it’s forgettable. The Pen’s voice is the one that carries, and it carries the night.
TBG Theater (Off Broadway). By various authors. Directed by Margot Bordelon, Saheem Ali and Brad Rouse. With Nancy Anderson, Michael Thurber and T. Oliver Reid. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission. Through Oct 29. Click here for full ticket and venue information.
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