I’ve had a night to digest how I feel about IF/THEN and I’m still not sure I’ve resolved an impression in my mind. As many of you know already, I’m pretty big into yoga. One of the biggest teachings of yoga (and a personal struggle of mine) is to live in the present and to focus on the breath you’re taking at this very moment. Another teaching is believing that you are always right where you are supposed to be in life and finding peace in that philosophy. I’ve hardly mastered this way of thinking, but it’s a goal of mine in trying to balance my personal, professional and family life. I’m one of those people that lays in bed at night thinking heavily on everything but the present. With that background, I’ll begin my review.
The musical simultaneously follows one woman’s two possible life paths, painting a deeply moving portrait of the lives we lead, as well as the lives we might have led (It’s basically Sliding Doors with less Gwyneth Paltrow and more music). To make the show interesting, there is a lot of drama in these two simultaneous paths. A LOT OF DRAMA. The majority of the production is focused on illustrating how single decisions can have significant impacts going forward. Many decisions are made and huge changes in these simultaneous paths occur. In sum, it’s a perpetual looking forward and back, emphasizing how every decision we make could alter our lives in both fantastic and devastating ways (hence the aforementioned drama). Overall, I think it was just too much for me. IF/THEN features a group of self-admitted “neurotic messes” and I feel like they dragged me along for the ride. I found myself trying to distance myself emotionally from these characters because I didn’t want to get wrapped up in all of their strife and discord (“we are where we are supposed to be and you guys need to just chill” was my constant internal monologue). This is coming from someone who loves Curb Your Enthusiasm, so that may illustrate just how cringe-inducing these characters can be at times.
So there, I managed to criticize a theatrical production for having too much drama. That said, I did find it interesting that I got so involved in the characters’ lives, even while I was striving not to. In the end, the story tries to resolve some of my internal conflicts with the constant focus of not living in the present. It wasn’t enough for me, though; it felt like a slapdash effort to tie everything up so people could go home with the reward of a happy ending. I also found that the writing relied too heavily on the use of profanity as a source of comedy. I don’t mind cursing, but a swear word alone is not a joke. I will say, though, that the song “What the F***” was actually quite good.
The production as a whole was really well done, with only a few exceptions. It was difficult to keep track of which of the two universes was being portrayed as the show went along. I had to really concentrate on the subtle differences (glasses on/glasses off; Beth/Liz) and the various parallel plot lines (I think there were three at one point). Those things aside, Jackie Burns as Elizabeth, the main character, was absolutely stellar. I’ve seen Wicked enough times to know that there are some people who can fill Idina Menzel’s shoes and some who cannot. Burns definitely falls in the former category. The music provided her, as well as the rest of the cast, with an abundance of powerful moments to belt out through catchy tunes. This is the kind of soundtrack you buy to play in your car so you can sing to at the top of your lungs. For a taste, listen to Always Starting Over.
So what do I think of the show as a whole? As a source for singable showtunes, it was great. As a catalyst for metacognition (thinking about one’s own thoughts), it was excellent. In the end, if you can put up with all the drama, it’s a solid piece of entertainment.
DEAL ALERT: Student/Educator rush will be available for all performances of If/Then. Rush tickets are $25 each, 2 tickets per valid school ID, cash only. Rush tickets go on-sale two hours prior to the show. The rush line forms outside of the Orpheum Theatre. The sale of rush tickets is subject to availability and the resale of rush tickets is strictly prohibited.
Photo by Joan Marcus