As a 10-person, 15-scene musical packed into 45 minutes, She of the Voice sure thinks big. But the action is small: nosy neighbors on a city block gossiping about an eccentric, very vocal resident. In episodic, revue-like fashion, the denizens sing, dance, kvetch, and regale us with favorite anecdotes of their beloved Magda—her claim of being Nelson Mandela’s love child, her bedding of several musicians, her dismissive expletives.
In this premiere—which kicked off the 2009 Underground Zero festival—the direction (by José Zayas) is polished, the songs (by Eliza Bent and Greg Portz) catchy, the sound design (by Matt Tennie) superb. But in translating a Hari Kunzru short story to the stage, writer-performer Bent falls into a classic adapter’s pitfall. Since the title character herself remains unseen (though she occasionally screeches from aloft), the play works only as an exercise, however skilled, in group narration. To be more, it would have to actively dramatize the neighbors themselves, but—both as individuals and a community—this likeable yet mild ensemble remains only a bland surrogate for Magda’s reportedly insatiable life force. While we may not go as far as Magda in wanting to tell them all to “fuck off,” we might not blame her for keeping to herself either.