TR Robertson — “Hundred Days”, currently on stage at La Jolla Playhouse’s Mandell Weiss Forum, holds nothing back from the moment that Abigail and Shaun Bengson step on stage, with their fellow band members, until the final song of the performance. The 75 minute performance begins with Abigail Bengson welcoming the audience and asking several questions, the last one the most poignant one. Abigail asks the audience, “How many of you believe if being alive is being in grief?”. From this we were led, through song and story, into the fascinating relationship that brought the Bengson’s together, their ups and downs and challenges for everyone to consider, The culminating question of their relationship, that Abigail asks Shaun, is “What would you do if you only had 100 days left to live?” How do we make the most of the time that we have?
Photos by Jim Carmody
The story of the beginnings of their relationship, now in its eleventh year of marriage, begins in Queens, and it is a whirlwind affair of three weeks before they were married. Abigail’s life is mired in traumatic and tragic occurrences from her past as she meets Shaun and is immediately drawn to him, as he is to her. Their musical story of this relationship is a mix of song styles ranging from soft ballads to driving pulsating rock to almost Irish jig tunes to a beautiful, melodic, mystical cello number. The range of songs speaks to the tumultuous, quick relationship that almost ended after Shaun’s trip to the hospital during the three week affair.
“Hundred Days” is written by the Bengsons and Sarah Gancher with music and lyrics by The Bengsons. The musical is under the direction of Anne Kauffman. The staging grabs your attention immediately as you enter the theatre. Low hanging amber lights fill the ceiling area above the stage. During the performance, these lights will move, according to the mood of the song. During one song long slender bright lights descend and present an almost blinding stage appearance. Along with wonderful lighting techniques, during the song “Salt Palace”, streams of salt fall from the ceiling in five different spots on stage as one of the more memorable songs for the musical is sung.
The Creative Team for the musical that assisted in creating the moods on stage consisted of Co-Scenic Designer and Props Designer Kris Stone, Co-Scenic Designer and Lighting Designer Andrew Hungerford, Sound Designer Nicholas Pope, Costume Designer Sydney Gallas, Production Manager Benjamin Seibert, and Stage Manager Jamie Lynne Simons.
The talented band accompanying The Bengsons included Ashley Baier, El Beh, Barrie Lobo McLain and Reggie D. White. The group played a variety of instruments – drums, accordion, guitars, and electric piano – as well as providing tremendous back-up vocals and solo parts. The Bengsons have been nominated for the Drama Desk, Drama League, and Lucille Lortel awards.
This musical is not for everyone, as shown by the seven individuals I saw leave half-way through the musical. If you do not do your homework about what you are going to see and think this is going to be “The Music Man” or “Phantom of the Opera”, you will be totally mistaken. Songs like “Three Legged Dog” is about anguish and rage of despair and is emotionally hard to watch, but incredibly performed. Just as this musical is about a couple taking a leap of faith in a relationship, the musical journey it will take you on takes a leap of faith in the emotions they go through along the way. It will challenge you as an audience to try and understand all aspects of what is going on and being said on stage. In the end, the musical is about living and loving and above all hope, “What else can we do?”
“Hundred Days” will play until October 21st at the La Jolla Playhouse, Mandell Weiss Forum. Tickets are available at 858-550-1010 or go to www.LaJollaPlayhouse.org.