I've observed the Carol Tambor "Best of Edinburgh" Award to be one of the more meaningful honors a show can receive. Midsummer, written and directed by David Greig with music by Gordon McIntyre, won that award and has now arrived in New York with cast intact for a brief run (through Jan. 26) at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. Like Metamorphoses, an earlier "Best of Edinburgh" winner, it validates its selection with superb writing, clever presentation, and excellent performances.
The action-packed two-hander stars Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon, two fine actors who have remarkable comic and stychomythic timing and are also musically gifted, as a pair of socially adrift 35-year-olds who get drunk and hook up in a pub, then embark on a glorious "lost weekend" that ends with the possibility of something more. At intervals they grab guitars and sing McIntyre's sweet, limpid folk-pop songs to illustrate some of the undercurrents of the action, which involves everything from love and sex to bondage and Elmo.
L-R: Cora Bissett and Matthew Pidgeon in MIDSUMMER [A PLAY WITH SONGS] running at the Clurman Theater. Photo by Douglas Robertson
On the surface, this structure brings to mind Once, but while that worthy show carries just about as much sentiment as it can without collapsing into a pool of tears, Midsummer is pure witty entertainment. Also, the musicianship here is more abstracted from these characters' lives, which makes Midsummer a little more like musical theater or opera.
On the other hand, the songs don't directly move the action forward so much as they express otherwise unacknowledged thoughts and states of mind, though they do bridge that divide at times. The recurring theme "Love will break your heart," for example, feels like an omniscient observation, but crosses over to the actual hearts of our protagonists with the closing line "But sometimes you want it to." Later, as Bob and Helena grow more and more entangled, they sing: "I'm itching to be told that life does more than make you old…We can do anything tonight," showing off McIntyre's knack for the pinpoint lyric.