One might expect Beacon Productions's There's the Story to be a musical, judging by composer Randy Redd's credits, which include Parade, By Jeeves, and Lucky Stiff. But this cryptic work is a play, impressively written by actor-playwright Timothy McCracken, that marries Redd's compositions, with their unresolved dissonance, to a painful theme of unexplained loss. There's the Story is set in the Hell's Kitchen apartment of Henry (Timothy McCracken) and his irritatingly predictable friend Curtis (Sean Dougherty). The two graduated from music school together and now barely subsist on music writing grants. Curtis works on an electric piano while Henry favors his Steinway. Curtis is prolific but uninspired, while Henry, despite previous triumphs, has become catatonically blocked.
Shadows from Henry's past have crippled his artistic process and confined him to a hermetic life on the couch. He can play the piano only up to a certain point, where he then screams and trembles with frustration.
When Curtis's new girlfriend, Alexandra (Tara Falk), enters the scene, Henry is forced to confront some painful memories. Step by step, note by note, he nears a long-awaited conclusion.
At one point, Henry describes a recital where he once played an improvised piece while on mushrooms: "Messy, but it kind of worked too." In many ways, this also captures McCracken's writing style. There are occasional stretches of drawn-out dialogue, overstated details, and half-baked humor, but in the end, the play's discursive elements combine well into a strangely satisfying whole.
Much of this is owed to director Christopher Grabowski, who skillfully guides McCracken's writing (and acting). Grabowski introduces the audience to Henry through a series of short tableaus depicting Henry's stagnated relationship with his piano: distantly staring at the instrument, caressing it, etc. The show's unlikely mixture of dramatic expressionism and psychological realism justifiably frames Henry's soul-searching struggle.
Grabowski's mastery also lies in the tempo. The play's pace is weighted by slow tension, and each scene is propelled by pivotal revelations or chilling snippets of a developing musical theme. (The music Henry composes on the piano, as well as the play's prerecorded interlude music, was written by Redd.)
McCracken's transforming performance as Henry is compelling to watch, if painful at times. He carefully avoids the clich