Ordinary Days: Surviving the Metropolis

Under the direction of Joanna Godwin-Seidl, The Vienna Theater Project delivered big city angst on a small stage

Sarah Est and Alan Burgeon

Sarah Est and Alan Burgeon in performances worthy of Broadway | Photo:Vienna Theater Project

Most of us are in awe of people who live in New York City – navigating the busy-ness of the streets, the sheer number of people, the thousands of restaurants, the hustle and bustle and the stamina it takes to get from one place to the next.

The mere thought of it is exhausting.

So to sit back and watch New Yorkers (or at least actors pretending to be New Yorkers) living in the moment provides at least a small hint of the “million stories in the naked city”; the lives behind the faces that make up the Big Apple.

Under Joanna Godwin-Seidl’s direction, Ordinary Days, by the Vienna Theater Project, brought a little bit of Broadway to Vienna’s Theater Drachengasse with nearly exquisite execution.

The hit Broadway musical by Adam Gwon tells the story of four New Yorkers – Jason, Deb, Warren and Claire – caught between understanding themselves and embracing their dreams, while navigating the reality of the fast-paced beast. And sometimes, they just get tired, frustrated with the chaos and noise that is New York.


The city as supporting actor

Deb (Sarah Est) has moved from a small town – “a suburb of a suburb” – to Manhattan to attend graduate school. Struggling through her thesis on the legendary Bloomsbury author Virginia Woolf, she one day accidentally leaves her research notebook on the subway. It is found by hipster idealist Warren (Peter Neustifter), a guy who is not quite sure of what his dream is, but is sure he has one. The question is, how does it fit into the vastness of New York?

Jason (Alan Burgon) and Claire (Kundra Owens), on the other hand, are a couple at a crossroads. Claire, still stricken by the loss of her husband in a fire years prior, is reluctant to allow herself to fall in love with the endearing Jason, a newcomer to New York who is very much in love with her.

In the black box theatre set, Godwin-Seidl remains true to the original casting by hiring actors diverse in age and race – a true hallmark of New York City – who take the audience on an 80-minute ride through their lives.

While each actor bemoans the move to the City, in this nearly all-sung musical, in the end it is the place that ties them to their dreams. New York, then, becomes the fifth character – embracing yet unyielding and unforgiving, a literal dreamcatcher for anyone brave and bold enough to enter its net.

The real stars, though, were Alan Burgon and veteran Kundra Owens, who gave performances worthy of Broadway itself. Perplexed at Claire’s standoffishness, Jason expresses his disappointment and desire in a very lovely rendition of “My Favorite Places.” His voice is firm, his emotion unquestionable.

Owens was similarly strong, although the evidence comes later in the show. But when it comes, it is like a gentle summer rain that morphs into a monsoon.

Their relationship comes to a head when they argue over whether to take white or red wine to a party at Claire’s cousin’s. The argument escalates in the taxicab when they can’t agree on the route. Frustrated, Claire stops the cab and they walk to clear their heads. Walking in silence, it begins to rain and the blame continues when Jason suddenly blurts out a marriage proposal. Claire, in disbelief, leaves him standing in the rain. Her rendition of “Gotta Get Out” nearly brought the crowd to its feet.


Compelling despite flaws

German native Sarah Est comes alive as Deb, more than 30 minutes into the show when she heads to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to meet Warren, the man who holds her future – or, at least, her thesis notes – in his hands. But while her soprano voice was lovely, Est’s enunciation left a lot to be desired, forcing the audience to guess at the words at crucial moments in the storytelling.

Neustifter was more convincing, funny without being slapstick, which can sometimes be difficult in musicals. His voice is beautiful, having cut his teeth as a member of the Vienna Boys Choir.

In the end, the four lives cross paths when Warren and Deb decide to drop some of Warren’s flyers over the fire escape of a New York high-rise, floating down to Claire and Jason. “Never let tall buildings block the view of your dreams,” the flyers read, a fitting metaphor for the New Yorkers not to let seeming obstacles stop them from living their lives.

Theater Drachengasse’s next show in English is: 

Playing Sarah and Paul
7-10 Nov., 20:00
Theater Drachengasse
1., Fleischmarkt 22
(01) 513 14 44

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