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McCurdy’s Whiterock Cliff Sends You Stumbling Off the Edge into Something Completely Different.

McCurdy’s Whiterock Cliff Sends You Stumbling Off the Edge into Something Completely Different.

It’s a steep unsteady climb and a rocky cluttered trail that Ryan McCurdy (Actors’ Playhouse’s Once; Off-Broadway’s Pip’s Island) leads us up to the edge in his live one-person musical Whiterock Cliff. He states, most empathically, that he has “no intention of telling you the truth” during one moment of connection, but this show reads and resonates in the bigger, wider, and more abstract plane of emotional truth-telling, even if the details don’t exactly coincide with what happened back then. McCurdy begins by walking in with a tinge of nervous anticipation, and papers fly in what seems, by accident. He calls someone on his trusted ‘never-to-far-away’ cell phone, as he somewhat attempts to settle into the studio space which will be his and our own little little version of the Appalachian Trail, with McCurdy as our emotive guide. Performing live from the Funkadelic Studios in New York for a virtual audience through April 23, Whiterock Cliff rocks and stomps forward. It’s quite the endeavor, this hike, dangerously strewn with rocks to slip or stubble on, but hopefully the view at the end will be worth the climb.

Throwing himself with a wild abandonment into and onto this Whiterock Cliff, the white carded notes of all the sensical assumptions that one-man storytelling can normally entail are flung out of order onto the floor. This compelling action points, most clairvoyantly, to a signpost set at the beginning of this trailblazing adventure on a very crooked path. Things will be complicated, it tells us, and out of the normal order of things. Jumping forward and back, like the three cameras used, plus a wide variety of instruments (including ukulele and theremin) and some fascinating looping techniques, McCurdy journeys through a creative side world that “was not supposed to be a solo show” with a manic edge, clearly having fun with the idea that it was always supposed to start with a (long) ship horn. It steps forward and stumbles, like a non-thought out attempt to hike your way through the mammoth 2,190 miles that make up the Appalachian Trail, blending ideas of memoir and history with playful stories about life choices, alongside connections to a dangerous accident (or two) and a painful divorce of two souls that once were in love. It’s messy and meandering, like a drunk man trying to guide us all down a hiking path in the dark without a flashlight, veering off into uncharted uncleared territory with an assurance that is misleading. The storytelling is unique, compelling, and creative, weaving together stories of love and pain inside a travelogue of musical tidbits that,not surprisingly, either hit home or fall mysteriously into the bush on the side of that dark path. 

Ryan McCurdy – Photo by Jody Christopherson.

Whiterock Cliff definitely feels like a passion project for this eclectic storyteller, delivering forth a jumbled book of ideas by McCurdy and Ellie Pyle (Blood Brides), with a wide array of music and lyrics, also by McCurdy, that meets us halfway. He (happily) tries to avoid the apocalypse scene (“I forgot how bleak” it is) but, as directed with a loose rope by Mary Chieffo (Operation Othello), he finds his way around and back again, regardless of whether it is made up of two words or three. The most honest song, made up on the spot, sort of how this show feels at certain points, floats with an abstract unbound purpose in the warm Hot Springs just off the trail, McCurdy finds some smart deep ideas about love, depression, attachment, and survival, but as a focused undertaking, he might not be the perfect guide to lead one on such a treacherous journey. He knows the unlying story far too well to see how unclear the water can be to the uninitiated. 

Go Us!” he cries. All involved obviously want “to find a unique way to share it in this pivottable moment as so many of us are seeking to find our own method of survival.” says producer Martha Goode. “Performing live, over and over, from the artistic center of a city that has spent a year gripped by fear is its own act of theatrical transformation and rebirth.” McCurdy is clearly a musical talent, and a multi-tasking wonder, playing and performing with utter significance this complicated collection of antidotes and arrangements. It sings, especially that finale song, but does it really take us on that journey of transformation and rebirth with clarity and reason? I’m not so sure, but neither does life, or, for that matter, hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

Ryan McCurdy in Whiterock Cliff – Photo by Manish Gosalia.

The trail songs register as unique mile markers on a haphazard trek, jumping around with a too wild abandonment of connectivity. It veers off the pathway for the sake of a complicated ‘trail turtled’ conceptualization (“Don’t google” that, just watch his feet, he tells us) that never fully plays out the interpersonal possibilities. Featuring the recorded voices of Mick Bleyer, Nick Corley, Brittany Curran, Stephen Lyons, Ellie Pyle, and Katrien Van Riel, the hike and fight with depression sets the internal engine going and keeps the adrenaline flowing, with McCurdy smiling and chuckling as he takes his jacket on and off with utter abandonment, flipping from one formulation to another. “I’m in!“, says Reese (he’s a “a very big deal“) but I can’t say that I was ever able to say that myself completely or emotionally. The show exists because of grief, and a fall, while he tries to survive the trail and transform his broken self. “If I could break myself, I’d be free.” Whiterock Cliff is most definitely poetic and creatively fascinating, but as a higher-minded journey, it stubbles on and off the pathway. The show stubs its toe and scraping its knee, as it searches for some exacting thing or way to connect and resonate fully in our collective heart and soul. I wish he found his way to that proverbial clear-minded edge as neatly and emotionally as he so desperately wants to. Maybe on the next trip down the trail, he and we will find that grand emotional vista to behold.

Goode Productions has announced that their streaming production of Ryan McCurdy’s one-man Off-Broadway musical Whiterock Cliff will be performed live at New York’s Funkadelic Studios for a five-week virtual run, with broadcasts starting March 24 and running through April 23. The live streaming performances are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 8:00 PM Eastern. The show is about 90 minutes. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased HERE.

Ryan McCurdy in Whiterock Cliff – Photo by Manish Gosalia.

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Out of Town
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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