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There Ain’t No Shelley Long Here: Hello Again

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There Ain’t No Shelley Long Here: <em>Hello Again</em>

Okay, the gripes are gonna come out first: The loft space at 52 Mercer Street used for Transport Group’s glorious redo of Michael John LaChiusa’s La Ronde takeoff Hello Again seemed about 20 degrees too warm on the press night I attended, and my ass was as sore as a whore’s from the cushion-less seating around the large banquet tables. Oh, and the considerable presence of actress Elizabeth Stanley (Company, Cry-Baby) is somewhat underutilized. But that’s pretty much all that isn’t stirring about this production, given an arresting, fresh, downtown-chic pulse by director Jack Cummings III (who similarly staged The Boys in the Band last year, hauntingly, in an actual NYC apartment), and featuring a truly brave, fully charged ensemble that never pushes the sexually voracious vignettes into prurient wank territory.

Arthur Schnitzler’s 1900 play has gotten so many makeovers it’s easy to see why it so often fails in translation. Most productions amp up the sexual content until there’s no room for a narrative to breathe, or are stiff bores for Etonian snobs. LaChiusa’s adaptation is both grave and playful, in highlighting its 10 tales, which follow through the entire 20th century, from clandestine trysts to casual hookups, pairings both gay and straight, with a little bisexuality thrown in for good measure. Among them are a Whore (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) and a Soldier (Max von Essen) who get it on with no names exchanged until post-coitum, a College Boy (Robert Lenzi) who dallies with both his Nurse (Stanley) and a Young Wife (Alexandra Silber) who is not his, a Senator (Alan Campbell) entangled with an Actress (Rachel Bay Jones), and in the most potent tale, a Husband (Bob Stillman) and a Young Thing (Blake Daniel) who have a liaison in the midst of a ship hitting an iceberg, and knowing full well that at least one of their hearts will not go on.

Transport’s production is sure to be buzzed-about rather quickly due to its near-record use of naked, well-muscled male backsides, sometimes literally thrusting close to your face. But the most surprising aspect is how the musical never becomes smutty, even while predicating every scene on a sexual bout. This could be because the inherent surge of emotion, as well as the deflating end result, that is involved in a sexual encounter is also constantly omnipresent, and director Cummings, along with his marvelous design team, have created a voyeuristic salon that is both titillating and repelling (just watch how your fellow audience members’ faces change from elation to recoilment through the course of the one-act).

LaChiusa’s sometimes atonal score has never been for everyone, but as brilliantly re-orchestrated by Mary-Mitchell Campbell to be played directly in the room with you, it has never sounded so fully realized. The simplest string arrangement suddenly feels epic, the nuances in the ambitious score—which ranges from jazz to disco to blues—that much more deeply felt. It helps immeasurably that this contains a cast full of distinctive voices (Campbell’s high peaks have never felt so encompassing) and personalities to match, and their ability to put themselves out there so brazenly is truly worth commendation. So book yourself a seat, and not only will you get a first-rate musical revival that won’t give you a toothache; you might even get a go-go boy on your table in the deal.

Hello Again is now playing in a loft at 52 Mercer Street, 4th Floor, in New York City through Apr 3. Schedule: Tue-Sun at 8pm. Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission.