At the top of Hundred Days, performers and collaborators Abigail and Shaun Bengson take a survey with the audience about the following statement: "being alive is being in grief: show of hands?"
This fraught, foreboding statement is a melancholy way to begin a show, but it captures the essence of Abigail and Shaun Bengson's new theatri-concert at New York Theatre Workshop. Over the course of 80 fever-dreamlike minutes, Abigail and Shaun, who are married in real life and in the show, explore the inextricable links between life, love, and death as they describe to us the foundations of their relationship.
Within the span of three weeks, Abigail and Shaun met, moved in together, and got married. At the same time, Abigail began remembering a dream she had when she was 15. She was in a tiny boat shaped like a diner booth with the love of her life, way out at sea. Suddenly, their diner booth was in a doctor's office, and a medical professional was delivering the news that the man she loves is dying, with only 100 days left to live.
Abigail viewed this prophecy to be the finite harbinger of death but did not tell her husband about it. Shaun, sensing something amiss, started thinking Abigail didn't love him as much as he loved her, which he viewed as a fate worse than death. Without telling each other of their intentions, they began living every day as if it was the last one they'd spend together, "memorizing moments, taking mental pictures, to stretch out time." And then, there's an accident that rocks their worlds.
Hundred Days was last seen in New York this past January as part of the 2017 Under the Radar Festival at the Public Theater. In the ensuing 11 months, the Bengsons, along with cowriter Sarah Gancher and director Anne Kauffman, have sharpened the work's focus, tightening up the story line and the scope of the work. Hundred Days is more squarely concentrated on Abigail's journey now, which works because she is an extremely exciting performer. Her vocal work, particularly during a mid-show nervous breakdown, combined with the electrifying "folk-punk" score, is overwhelming in informing the rawness of her character. With slightly less of an emphasis on Shaun's side of the journey, the story's arc as a whole feels not quite as well rounded as before.
Kauffman fills the production with the same dread most people experience every single day as they wait for the metaphorical other shoe to drop. Co-scenic and lighting designer Andrew Hungerford populates the stage with hanging bulbs that resemble a star-filled sky, but also with harsh halogen lamps that instantly strike us with our own innate fear of hospitals. Sonya Tayeh provides the head-banging movement for the Bengsons and backup performers Jo Lampert and Reggie D. White.
With Hundred Days, Kauffman and the Bengsons have created a universal story, recognizable to anyone who's ever loved and lost. While life's events are unknowable, one thing's certain: 100 days aren't nearly enough to spend with the one you love.
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