“Spinning Into Light,” the thin new holiday play at B Street Theatre, casts a minimalist mind-set over the already reduced sensibility of a chamber musical. The four-person period drama set in the American South in the early 1950s is that rare bit of theater that actually needs a little more heft rather than paring down.
The musical’s book and lyrics are by Buck Busfield, bolstered by bright, tuneful music by composer Noah Agruss. The songs are a mixed bag: Some are vibrant sketches, others simple narrative place-holders. There are even a couple of subtle expressions of the characters’ inner lives.
On the whole, though, the work feels underdeveloped, with the characters searching for a strong narrative that might bind them together.
There is a general theme of looking for fulfillment that isn’t surprising considering the characters’ situations. Three of the four work in an old textile mill. Greg Alexander’s decidedly taciturn Vassar, Melinda Parrett’s appealing single mother Sally, and Tara Sissom’s energetic Mindy Sue are all on the line in various jobs. It’s a kind of dull factory work that hardly exists in this country anymore. Jason Kuykendall’s smooth Kenny is a traveling salesman and Sally’s verbally dexterous ex-husband.
Ironically, the expressionless, monosyllabic Vassar initially stirs the story’s romantic round-robin plot with his artless wooing of Sally during their mutual lunch break. Vassar is so comically but uncommonly guileless that most people have conversations around him rather than with him, since his particular gift is using as few words as possible. Alexander is a skilled master of droll timing and creates a comic lightning rod with this wooden man, who has a touching honesty about him.
Parrett’s cool, complex Sally hesitantly accepts Vassar’s interest as he quizzically allows Sissom’s brassy Mindy Sue to stalk him. Kuykendall’s wild-card Kenny wants to rekindle his relationship with Sally, which soured because of his drinking.
Agruss’ music contains an appealing blend of guitar-based country and pop folk ballad accessibility. Sissom’s strong, twangy voice is particularly suited to the idioms, and Parrett, an always moving, elegant vocalist, movingly carries several tunes. Alexander and Kuykendall sing in a more character-based vernacular, which suits the material.
Busfield directs with customary straightforward attentiveness. As individual pieces, the characters and the actors playing them have their moments and general appeal, but not enough happens onstage, and the play’s most significant event doesn’t come until the end.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.
SPINNING INTO LIGHT
What: B Street Theatre’s Buck Busfield writes and directs a new holiday musical with composer Noah Agruss. The cast consists of Melinda Parrett, Greg Alexander, Jason Kuykendall and Tara Sissom.
When: Continues 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays; through Jan. 4.
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Tickets: $23-$35, $5 student rush
Information: (916) 443-5300, or www.bstreettheatre.org
Time: Two hours, including one intermission