What are the forces that draw us to unhealthy relationships? We seem to romanticize unrequited love, harbored jealousies, and destructive passion. Relent, a new-indie rock musical, explores these bombastic tendencies and cravings with raw emotional potency, The WorkShop Theater produces this work with a simple set and wonderfully tortured souls. Writer Jennifer Makholm and composer Ian Wehrle dive in head first, and we are so ever thankful that they let us explore our own dark side. Mixed in with this helter-skelter look at humanity, the pair find incredible humor and surprising moments of tenderness.
Relent follows Vera, a lead singer in a rock-band, and her love-hate relationship with Pace, who is more than just a little unreliable. Much of the action takes place in Vera’s apartment, which is shared by her lesbian roommate Dot. When Sam, a photographer, shows up to cover the band, he crashes on their couch. The next two hours are filled with horrible fights, lots of laughs, and unspoken love triangles.
The musical is a roller-coaster of emotion and no one knows what to expect next. And like all guilty pleasures, we don’t want it to stop.
The reason we crave more has to do with the stellar-cast. Very rarely do I see an ensemble of actors who all match each other so well. There is no weak link on stage. Shonda Leigh Robbins plays Vera with profound conviction. She is as natural as she is fiery. I applaud her ability to change emotions on a dime. Oh yea, this girl can also sing! Robbins is a tour-de-force and leads the play well. Her counterpart. Kenyon Phillips is captivating as Pace. His sincerity makes us root for this simple-minded, flawed man trying to do the best he can. Rosebud Baker, finds depth as Dot. It is obvious that she is in love with Vera. Baker gives us some sweet, tender moments of beautiful vulnerability. But, her overwhelming comic timing make her a force in her own right. David Goldberg plays the subtlety of Sam brilliantly and we root for him in his concealed pursuit of Vera. Ben Sumrall is a breath of fresh air as the jarring innocent guy. He reminds us that there is still purity and light in this otherwise dark play. Katherine Macdonald rounds out the cast well.
As much as I loved the cast, I could not help but wish that Makholm added so more depth to her songs. There were times where I wished that she gave us new verses instead of the same chorus. There is definitely a lot more emotional complexity to explore. As it is now, it is a little too repetitive and we lose interest at times. I hope that she will dig deeper and give us some different choices. Also, the climax of the play didn’t quite work. In a moment of passion Vera and Sam start to have hot sex. The actors were committed, showing saw Sam graphically penetrating Vera. Yet, they didn’t disguise the fact that the actors had underwear on. I understand the intent, but if we are to truly believe that this is hard sex, then we can not see that the actors have clothes on that would prevent the truth of the moment from happening. It is a shame because we are as geared up for it as Sam is, but can’t suspend our disbelief with such an obvious contradiction
Those are minor points. I still love the music and story of Relent and I hope it goes somewhere. It’s raw tenacity and lust make it irresistible!
Relent plays Jan. 16-28, 2014 at the WorkShop Theater. 312 W. 36th St