Q and Patience and Sarah | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Q and Patience and Sarah 

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Q, Bailiwick Repertory, and PATIENCE AND SARAH, Bailiwick Repertory. Of the two new shows in the Bailiwick Pride Series, the one with the least on its mind is the most rewarding while the one with sky-high aspirations is dreary and affected. Despite some missteps that bring it dangerously close to parody, the musical revue Q--a compendium of 16 ballads and ditties by gifted songwriters and life partners Dan Martin and Michael Biello--demonstrates the way to make gay musical theater celebratory without being cheeky, preachy, or crude.

Martin and Biello's tunes fall somewhere between Company and Rent, with dashes of Godspell and Beauty and the Beast thrown in. We're talking sappy, tearstained, punny--and delicious. A song like "Bisexual Blues" comes awfully close to Sondheim in its witty lyricism while a line like "Come taste the nectar of my love" embodies the worst of tortured gay drama. Lilting and fanciful, the ballads most entrance. "You Do Not Know Me" gives heartfelt voice to the desperation of disaffected individuals--a businessman, a young woman, a gay man--in a cold-shoulder world. Martin and Biello's talents are sometimes squandered, however, in David Zak's overeager staging. The well-meaning but heavy-handed AIDS memorial anthem "The Dance" becomes a made-for-TV candlelight vigil.

At the show's final preview the ensemble's voices were strong (the two women outshone the men) but needed more confidence.

Unfortunately the midwest premiere of Patience and Sarah--Paula Kimper and Wende Person's opera about the love affair between two early-19th-century women, well received in its 1998 New York premiere--is as dowdy as its ankle-length dresses and high-buttoned collars. Based on Isabel Miller's 1969 novel, the work follows two decidedly sapphic women in rural New England who form a relationship understood at the time as a benign partnership of spinsters or "Boston marriage."

Staged here as a chamber opera with only piano accompaniment, the show is sorely missing the sparks needed between proper Patience and mild-mannered butch Sarah, played by physically and vocally mismatched Christine Wagner and Julia Turner. Kimper's music blossoms into memorable passages too late, in the beautiful second act. And director Shifra Werch hammers the dyke-positive message in the overpoliticized libretto so relentlessly it loses any nuance it might have had.

--Erik Piepenburg

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