Falsettos, Apple Tree Theatre.
This fusion of two earlier one-acts--March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland--may well be a whole greater than its parts. By its soul-shaking ending, the witty, heartbreaking Falsettos will conquer any crowd. The first part of William Finn and James Lapine's musical saga premiered in 1980, when the plot--Marvin leaves wife Trina and son Jason for a guy named Whizzer--was risque enough. Even more radical were the non-nuclear families formed from this fission: Trina and Mendel, the psychiatrist she marries, and Marvin and Whizzer, who, lacking a social contract, are bound uncertainly by love alone. Jason, caught between two loving households and drawn to three "fathers," must sort out the mystifying realignments of these anarchic adults.
Mirroring an evil invisible in 1980, the final installment chronicles the advent of AIDS, a curse that pushes the bonds within this extended family (which now includes the indomitable lesbians next door) to the breaking point. Symbolizing the strength of those bonds is a moving scene that combines ancient ritual with modern anguish: Jason holds his bar mitzvah in Whizzer's hospital room.
The second Falsettos this season (following the local premiere at Illinois Theatre Center), Gary Griffin's brisk, deep staging does rich justice to a multifaceted work. The show's strength remains its comparative lack of plot; instead it fully explores the characters, their hungers, neuroses, hopes, and dogged decency. These come through magnificently in David Studwell's love-torn Marvin, Leisa Mather's caring if confused Trina, James Saba's knowing Mendel, Jonathan Clark's loyal Whizzer, and David Byman's remarkable Jason, younger but wiser than any of them. Family values don't get any more valuable than this.