In the tiny little Studio Two at the RiffeCenter, CATCO is rather quietly putting on one of the most moving and thought-provoking shows around. "The Story of My Life" is a two-man musical, containing music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and based on the book by Brian Hill. It is acted out in a two member cast with Joe Bishara as best-selling writer Thomas Weaver, and Jeff Horst as his best friend- small town, family bookstore owner, Alvin Kelby. It does run during the holiday season, and contains multiple references to the classic Christmas film, "It's A Wonderful Life", but director Steven C. Anderson's diamond in the rough production has themes that transcend the wistful reminiscence of this time of the year, and leave the audience moved not only to tears, but to pondering their own lives and relationships long after the curtain has closed.
The story begins at the end, with renowned author, Thomas, desperately trying to pen the eulogy for the recently deceased Alvin. Experiencing a particularly upsetting bought of writer's block wound tightly in his own guilt, Thomas tries vainly to "Write What You Know", but continues to draw a blank. In his mind, Alvin appears, and throughout the show, he pulls one of "what must be a million stories in that head of yours" from Thomas' mental archives and re-creates them, displaying their forgotten significance in beautiful and painful forms. Stephanie Gerckens' set design consisting of various bookcases and stacks of manuscripts jotted down, much lends itself perfectly to the uncovering of the pages that comprise the story of their friendship, much like digging through grandma's attic. Their friendship begins with the boys meeting in a grade school Halloween parade, drawn together for their misfit costume choices, and becoming instant comrades. It goes on to depict the chapters of their friendship through adolescence and into adulthood.
Joe Bishara's Thomas is unabashedly self-consumed and pompous, reveling in his fame as an author professionally, while unraveling personally. As he recalls the demise of his engagement in "I Like It Here", and the more painful loss of his muse in "Saying Goodbye" , Bishara does well crafting a character who is so consumed in the future that he has let much of the "today" slip unrealized through his hands. Bishara does a brilliant job craftily muffling Thomas' arrogance with occasional glimpses of well-disguised emptiness. Jeff Horst's Alvin is dramatically innocent and charmingly unrestrained. His character plays out as if painting a beautiful portrait before your eyes, especially so on songs like, 'Independence Day", as the promise of hope, contrasted by the depths of his own loneliness are heart-wrenching. What the script lacks in a bit better development of why these two characters are so drawn to each other, the two actors more than make up for in emotional depth. You can't help but want to see the next story play out as it reveals a new puzzle piece to their friendship. Musically, Bishara and Horst are also brilliant, with Sondheim-like harmonies enhanced by Music Director, Matt Clemens on piano, Kurt Harrison on cello, and Josh Herndon on woodwinds to add to the lovely, albeit not very creative score.
In 90 minutes, the beautifully poignant musical takes the audience through the giddiness of childhood friendship, the challenges of adolescence, and plenty of moments in the two characters' adulthood where their lives took courses that neither was prepared for. It is an undeniably sad story, one that left few dry eyes in the audience, but one of those shows that you can't stop thinking about once it's over. Whether the script is flawless, or the theater small, "The Story of My Life" does well what great theater was designed to do- affect its audience. I was nearly as entranced in the conversations of the patrons leaving the theater who had already begun reminiscing over their own forgotten friendships, as I was the lingering effect of the show itself, as it was such a delightfully thought provoking experience. Either way, it's a production not to be missed, and one that may set the stage in your own life for what's important this holiday season and after.
CATCO will present The Story of My Life, a heartwarming story about two men who retrace their friendship from age 6 to 35, Nov. 28-Dec. 16, 2012. Remaining shows are Wednesday (Dec.. 5 and Dec. 12) at 11 a.m.; Thursday (Dec. 6 and Dec. 13) at 8 p.m.; Friday (Dec. 7 and Dec. 14) at 8 p.m.; Saturday (Dec. 8 and Dec. 15) at 8 p.m.; and Sunday (Dec. 9 and Dec. 16) at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $11.50-$45 at the Ohio Theatre (614-469-0939), http://www.catcoistheatre.org/ and Ticketmaster outlets (800-745-3000, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.