Love, liquor — and video games? — are blended in unusual 'Usual'
The title of Williamston Theatre’s latest production, “The Usual,” is entirely misleading. It
is anything but usual. In fact, it is unusual to the extent that it may
polarize audiences. It is also one of the most offbeat shows of the
The full title of the play is “The Usual: A Musical Love
Story.” Williamston’s run of the show is the world premiere of the
original work, with book and lyrics by Alan Gordon and music by Mark
Sutton-Smith. If that last name sounds familiar, it is because he is the
brother of “The Usual” cast member and Williamston Theatre Development
Director Emily Sutton-Smith.
“The Usual” follows the usual conventions of a love story:
Boy and girl meet cute but face internal and external obstacles before
achieving their happily-ever-after ending. The dark turn that the story takes at the end of Act One marks its journey into the unusual.
The play begins as computer nerd Kip (Joseph Zettelmaier)
reconnoiters Sam’s Bar as a possible hangout for his geek squad. As
proprieter Sam (Leslie Hull) schools Kip on the customs of imbibing,
Valerie (Sutton-Smith) crashes in, hiding from a bad Internet date.
Learning that she is a serial Internet dater, Kip forges a pact with
Valerie to meet at Sam’s after every date to debrief.
At first this plan works out nicely, and the two exchange
tales of past relationship disasters. These stories offer Hull the
opportunity to stretch from her barmaid duties, playing a manic reality
television show hopeful and an Internet fantasy girl. The latter also
affords scenic designer Daniel C. Walker the opportunity to surprise the
audience with an unexpected scenic element.
Act One ends on an unexpectedly serious note as Valerie
experiences the ugly side of Internet dating, causing her to retreat
from the world. This is when things get really, really unusual.
Act Two focuses on Valerie’s rather unique form of
therapy, as she rediscovers her first video game. It's at this point
that some audience members may lose their connection to the play, as it
incorporates the use of 1980s-style role-playing games as a metaphor for
Valerie’s struggle. Unlike today’s role-playing games, with their
fancy-pants, life-like color graphics and slick animation, back in the
day RPGs were played using simple text directions and blobby, chunky
characters that came in green or amber, depending on the color of the
computer’s glowing cathode-ray tube screen.
Costume designer Holly Iler does a fantastic job
recreating the look of such characters, aided by Lynn Lammer’s pixelated
props. As Valerie commands her character, typing furiously on her
“Kebpro II” computer (to which an entire song is devoted), her Valkyrie
avatar does furious battle, the hilariously low-tech special effects
brought to life by the Dancing Crew: Brandon Piper and Carolyne Rex.
Director Tony Caselli chose his cast well. Zettelmaier is
absolutely perfect as the schlubby but huggable Kip, and while his voice
isn’t the most refined, it suits his character. Sutton-Smith moves
seamlessly from confident cruiser to computer-obsessed shut-in, her
voice strongest when she lets it all out. Hull has a blast with her side
characters, lending an earnest charm as the matchmaking bartender. And
she has pipes powerful enough to drown out a Harley.
While the end may tie up just a wee bit too neatly, it is
not a spoiler to reveal that. After all, it is called a musical love
story. Still, the unusual aspects of the “The Usual” set it apart from
similar stories. It may not be everyone’s game, but those of a certain
age will revel in its quirkiness.
‘The Usual: A Musical Love Story’
Now through April 22
122 S. Putnam St., Williamston
8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
$20 Thursdays; $25 Fridays and Saturday
evenings; $22 Saturday matinees and Sundays; $10 students with ID; $2
off any show for seniors 65 and over