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The Story of My Life

This world premiere musical about an intense childhood friendship lacks conflict and resolution. logo
Brent Carver and Jeffrey Kuhn
in The Story of My Life
(© Lucas Oleniuk)
It is unfortunate that the creators of The Story of My Life, the two-person musical which is having its world premiere engagement at CanStage, neglected several narrative essentials. Had composer/lyricist Neil Bartram and book writer Brian Hill remembered that compelling stories need conflict and resolution -- as well as varied the emotional temperature of the show -- they could have produced a memorable look at friendship. As it is, this particular Story is missing a few chapters.

The one-act, two-character piece, directed by Michael Bush, stars Tony Award winner Brent Carver, fresh from his stint as Gandalf in Toronto's Lord of the Rings, as neurotic writer Thomas. However, the life of the title would seem to be that of his childhood friend, Alvin (sturdily played by Jeffrey Kuhn) -- since we never get as much information about Tom and his family as we do about Alvin.

The show begins with a device that's been used many times before: Thomas returns to his hometown to eulogize Alvin. While Thomas is now a best-selling author, he struggles to analyze in words the essence of Alvin's life and the meaning of a friendship that soared when they were boys and young adults but fell apart as they grew older. In fact, they hadn't spoken for 10 years before Alvin jumped off the town bridge to his death. Soon Alvin appears and coaches Tom -- "Say I always ate my brussel sprouts" -- and immediately becomes child, adult, and memory, an engaging metaphysical and musical feat. But right off the bat, there is a lot of talking and not enough dramatizing, as Tom tells us too much about the story we're waiting to see unfold.

As the memories crowd in, the men become boys again. Alvin's mom died when he was six and he was raised by his father, who ran the town bookshop. In elementary school, quiet Tom is drawn to quirky Alvin, who, in the first grade, dresses up as the ghost of his mother, which is either poignant or just plain weird. Alvin tells Tom, "My mother met her angel and I met you," which seems to indicate the two men are destined to be more than just friends.

Indeed, angels are a recurring image; Tom recalls that the boys used to make snow angels every Christmas Eve, and the film It's A Wonderful Life and its angelic character Clarence are invoked many times. When the boys are teenagers, Alvin suddenly kisses Tom on the lips at the Angels Falls bridge (the same one where he would eventually jump from).

Eventually, Tom heads to the big city to pursue his career, carrying a load of guilt over leaving Alvin behind to look after his ailing father and run the bookshop. Tom gets engaged to a woman, then breaks it off, and the story now seems to be that of a conflicted gay man. But it goes no further. Tom remains single and we never learn why Alvin committed suicide. Tom even confronts Alvin's spirit and asks, "Why did you kiss me? What happened?" Alvin responds, "You'll never know. Just accept that pieces might not fit." While this may be true of life, it's hardly satisfying for an audience.

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