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Inner Voices: Solo Musicals

Heidi Blickenstaff and Judith Blazer turn in remarkable performances in this pair of idiosyncratic one-act shows.

Judith Blazer in Whida Peru: Resurrection Tangle
(© James Leynse)
The intensity of talent permeating the two one act musicals that comprise Inner Voices: Solo Musicals, now being presented by Primary Stages at 59E959 Theaters, is decidedly impressive. Indeed the work of the show's two stars, Heidi Blickenstaff in Act I's Mosaic by Cheri Steinkellner and Georgia Stiff, and Judith Blazer in Act II's Whida Peru -Resurrection Tangle by David Simpatico and Josh Schmidt, is what truly makes this unusual evening worth catching.

But be prepared for theater that not only indulges in musical monologue -- but stories that are deeply personal, dark, and exceedingly idiosyncratic. In Mosaic, Rutt is a one-hit wonder songwriter who refers to her song ideas as pearls. As she gives us her life story in the form of a blog, complete with pictures within pictures (which become a mosaic (hence the title), we realize there's a reason she's so desperate for another pearl -- for her legacy to continue. Not only is there a child in her womb; there is a cancer growing inside Ruth as well as a baby.

The emotional journey we take with Ruth, as she reveals her fear that she may not be there for her little girl in the years ahead, is somewhat sentimental. Still, Blickenstaff makes the most of the tearful yet hopeful music and lyrics, giving a fully committed, fully engaged performance.

If Mosaic is essentially naturalistic and instantly accessible, Whida Peru: Resurrection Tangle, is anything but. Strikingly stylized in almost every aspect of its production, the show begins with pianist Andy Boroson playing the 88s, while also making compelling, oddly syncopated taps on the frame of the piano and also stamping his foot. And then Blazer makes her dazzling entrance in sparkling spandex leggings and sexy sequins into a room full of candles and Christmas lights. (The stage lighting is cunningly provided by Jennifer Schriever.)

The music by Josh Schmidt in this piece takes a back seat, to David Simpatico's jaw-droppingly over-the-top book. It has been 40 months since Whida's lover Juanee left the hospital to get a coffee and got hit by a bus and was killed. Since then, Whida -- an unusual woman, to say the least -- has not left her apartment. But tonight, the ghost of Juanee has returned for one last fling -- and he wants her to let him go so that she can finally reenter the world. And Blazer truly blazes in a performance that is a wonderfully weird combination of gypsy, Puerto Rican, and Long Island Jew.

Both acts are about life and death, although they approach their subjects in wildly different ways. Director Jonathan Butterell has wisely allowed each piece to be its own particular side of the same coin. He has directed both plays with panache, giving each of these solo shows a surprising amount of kinetic energy despite the fact that Blickenstaff spends virtually her entire time on stage in a chair, while Blazer's character is trapped within her tiny apartment, purposefully meant to be claustrophobic.