by Andrew Turner
published December 12, 2008
now playing Off Broadway at 59E59 Theatres
through January 4th
There’s a musical number near the end of Improbable Frequency, currently playing at the 59E59th Street Theatre, called “Unresolved.” During the song,
an unlikely British spy and an Irish femme fatale ponder the fate of their romance: “Do we wind up our song on a minor chord? The lyrics in
search of that final world – Unresolved?”
It’s not the best musical number, nor is it the worst. It is, however, representative of the play as a whole. This is a production
that is unresolved about whether to be good or not. There are moments of brilliance, and moments that make you wince.
A few examples to illustrate what I mean:
sex-crazed version of the German physicist Schroedinger, and a number entitled “Don’t Wave Your Particles at Me”; PAT, a giant Probability
machine that can influence the future; “The Bedtime Jig,” the closing number at the end of Act I, where the spy and the femme-fatale voice
their doubts about their relationship during a copulatory see-saw.
Wince-worthy: the annoying habit of
the protagonist to speak in rhymed verse; puns such as “worst” and “wurst”; a member of the orchestra honking a horn whenever someone says
The play follows the misadventures of Tristan Faraday, a British crossword-loving enthusiast who gets drafted into the British
Secret Service by virtue of his ability to decipher codes. He is sent to Dublin to try to figure out which side the neutral Irish will take
during the war. Along the way he meets a motley cast of double-agents, kooky IRA loyalists, and crazed scientists.
It’s a fun idea, but there’s something inherently wrong with a musical about neutrality. Musicals are supposed to be unashamedly
big and brash; this one, with its tongue-in-cheek word play and subtle political maneuverings, is too self-conscious. It second-guesses
itself half the time, and never lives up to its potential.
At times it’s almost as if the actors are afraid of singing too loud.
I suppose it must be intimidating for the Irish, who don’t exactly have a long history of musical
theatre, to be twelve or so blocks from the musical capital of the world.
Hey, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere – but you gotta make up your mind to do it. In the meantime, toora loora
andrewturner @ stageandcinema.com