Daphne Rubin-Vega and Malik Yoba in Everythings Turning Into Beautiful
(© Carol Rosegg)
Daphne Rubin-Vega and Malik Yoba in
Everythings Turning Into Beautiful
(© Carol Rosegg)
Dramatic literature theorists will tell you that what characters demand explicitly or implicitly from one another is the very core of drama, yet it's probable that few figures in play annals begin as many speeches with the words "I want" as does Brenda in Seth Zvi Rosenfeld's well-crafted two-hander Everythings Turning Into Beautiful. "I want the cake and to eat it too and not get fat," Brenda insists at one point. Soon after, she launches into a much longer "I want" aria, delivered with such breathtaking spontaneity by Daphne Rubin-Vega that it alone is worth the price of admission.

As a singer-songwriter who desires so many things that she's somehow uncertain as to what she really covets or can trust, Rubin-Vega is giving one of those natural performances that's hard to tear your eyes away from. That she possesses surpassing singing talent has been clear ever since she performed like a cat on a hot Tin-Pan-Alley roof in Rent a decade ago. But here, her every gesture demands to be noticed -- whether she's just knitting white leg-warmers, biting her nails, or pulling her long hair back and letting it fall into place again.

Indeed, the only unbelievable line she utters is Brenda's complaint about no longer having the body of a 26-year-old. Rubin-Vega has a body that any 26-year-old would happily swear off Haagen-Dazs for in order to achieve, and she gets to flaunt plenty of during a sexy, rumpled bed scene in the second act. So does Malik Yoba as Sam, Brenda's writing and performing partner.

Good as Rubin-Vega is, she's matched every beat of the way by Yoba. The hulking Sam shows up at Brenda's Chelsea door at 2am on Christmas Eve, wanting more than approval of a newly minted song he thinks they should record. Looming over the sylphlike Rubin-Vega with his World Wrestling Federation physique, Yoba is also as natural as a waterfall while wooing Brenda and simultaneously conveying Sam's debilitating uncertainty about commitment. And he has at least one aria that equals Rubin-Vega's "I want" list. It occurs early in the second act when he recalls how, as a young recording artist achieving enormous success, he had no clue how to handle his sudden fame. Later, Yoba makes an outcry about giving his heart away that reduces the audience to dropped-jaw adoration.

It's a happy thing for Rosenfeld that Rubin-Vega and Yoba broadcast chemistry from here to the moon, because no one is going to make a strong case for his work being transcendent. This short, two-act drama about the bumps that a couple endures while taking the frightening fall into love is simply the latest in a long line of similar plays, such as William Gibson's Two for the Seesaw, Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year and, most similarly, Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.

When Sam walks through Brenda's door not two minutes into the play, there's little doubt that he'll eventually walk back out without getting what he so obviously has come for. No matter how often Sam is asked to leave by Brenda in her wool cap, the audience knows it ain't likely to happen. What counts is the manner in which the two would-be lovers get through to each other, and Rosenfeld does a reasonable job with Brenda and Sam's sometimes irrational back-and-forth routine. The double act, directed so cannily by Carl Forsman that it appears not to have been directed at all, has enough staying power to please patrons.

Everythings Turning Into Beautiful has something else going for it in Jimmie James' score. It consists of songs that Brenda and Sam have supposedly written, sometimes separately and sometimes together like a latter-day Ashford and Simpson. The play's title is also the title of a song that hints at the play's outcome, and there are another half dozen rhythm-and-blues numbers that sound like chart-busters. As a result, this show is a recommended destination for ticket buyers who not only want to see two performers at their peak but want to hear some catchy tunes as well.