Writers Theatre's Days Like Today can be a real pain | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Writers Theatre's Days Like Today can be a real pain

A new musical explores love and commitment—through annoying characters.

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We first meet 24-year-old Tessa on her wedding day, at her parents' vacation home on the Atlantic seaboard. It's fall. Her diaphanous off-white bridal gown is hanging from the frame of a porch window, suffused with morning light, and she's absorbed in the perfection of it all. Her mother keeps reminding her that she doesn't have to go through with the ceremony if she doesn't want to. But, oh, Tessa wants to. For whatever reason, she wants to very much.

Of course she's due to get slapped down. And sure enough, boyish fiance Arnaud arrives to tell her he loves her, but . . . Having just put on the bridal gown, Tessa undoes it again, lets it drop to the ground, and walks away.

The rest of Days Like Today revolves around Tessa's yearlong recovery from Arnaud. It isn't really about that, though. Based on works by famously quirky American playwright Charles Mee, this new musical uses Tessa's trauma as an occasion for studying love and commitment in various manifestations. Tessa's father, Frank, is a gay classics professor, her mother, Maria, a libidinous free spirit. They maintain close ties—agreeing that Tessa is the "best mistake" they ever made—even while pursuing their bliss with their respective boyfriends. Maria's Francois is a dancer who wants a no-stick relationship. Frank's Edmund is a former student holding out for marriage. And then there's the wild card: James, a pizza-delivery guy with a PhD.

As these thumbnail portraits suggest, this is a rarefied bunch, the sort of people who have a favorite Montrachet, spend time in Tuscany, and think they suffer even though they've got access to a perfectly nice summerhouse. The sort who're always saying "We need to talk." Susie McMonagle and Jonathan Weir charm their way out of this cramped circle as the parents, but director Michael Halberstam can't get the stink of narcissism off the others—which wouldn't be a problem except that it seems we're expected to like them. Alan Schmuckler's neo-Sondheimian music and lyrics are witty at times but, like the characters in Laura Eason's script, get a little too full of themselves.

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