Like the musical theater from which it draws its repertoire, the fantasy world of the piano bar encourages accents and costumes; it thrives on passion and longing, and it doesn’t ask any nosy questions about who one really is or what one is doing there. Circle Bar B’s latest production, I Remember You, is set in a New York piano bar, and it succeeds admirably in reproducing the “through the looking glass” effect that makes its milieu so compelling.
As the young financial district worker Tracy Wheaton, Leesa Beck leans into the Dionysian abandon offered by her accidental encounter with lounge pianist Austin “Buddy” Bedford (Clyde Sacks), a middle-aged man who can’t shake the memory of a lost love. Their opening scene together at the bar is a small masterpiece of rapid mood change, full of the sudden self-conscious pauses and subsequent blushes of a real flirtation. As Prunella Somerset, Tracy’s mother and Austin’s former lover, Susie Couch gives a giant performance, spanning several registers of emotion all within the compass of a remarkably consistent and winning English accent. Rodney Baker also has a terrific turn as Oliver Pemberton, the publisher of Prunella’s series of children’s books.
The confrontation and rivalry that results when Tracy takes her fiance Buddy home to meet Prunella leads to a bundle of unexpected revelations. Simple antagonisms turn out not to be so simple, and the emotions they arouse take virtually everyone by surprise. This is a great piece for Circle Bar B to be doing right now. It gives all four of these actors a chance to shine, and it is particularly poignant in the way it delivers the feelings, both happy and sad, that are the basis for its many wonderful songs. Sacks has just the right mixture of playfulness and sorrow to convince as Buddy, and Couch meets him on equal terms with her portrayal of a woman who has never given up on her dreams, even if she has been forced to make sacrifices. Beck achieves some daring extremes of vulnerability-her performance takes one right to the edge, yet always manages to remain in control. Congratulations to director Jim Sirianni and his entire cast and crew on an extraordinary triumph of regional theater.