‘Brief Moment’ touches hearts and minds

Deborra Brannon
Nathan Monks as George and Wendy James as Sarah meet as young people early in the musical “One Brief Moment,” by Richard Derwingson and Allen King. Three performances were held over the weekend in the backstage theater at College of the Siskiyous in Weed.

Life, love, and loss were lyrically explored in “One Brief Moment” at the intimate production area created backstage in the College of the Siskiyous theater last weekend in Weed.

The musical, written by Richard Derwingson and Allen King, tells the story of a couple’s meeting, marriage, and sunset years.

Mezzo soprano Wendy James played the part of Sarah, who is wooed and won early in the story by George, played by baritone Nathan Monks.

Production designer Neil Carpentier-Alting’s simple set provided comfortably familiar surroundings in which the couple live their lifetime together: a café table at which they meet and later reunite, a park bench on which they woo and later reminisce, and a living room area in which they face a devastating marital crisis but later dance their way into late middle age, arm in arm.

The couple’s story is told mostly through the 17 songs written by King and Derwingson. Pianist Dave Reynolds played live during the performance with recorded tracks performed by himself and Scott Durbin.

From the opening chords of the overture through the final number, Reynold’s playing beautifully evoked the emotions arising in each scene and complemented the actors’ expressive singing.

James directed and choreographed the production, and clearly had a wonderful time on stage with Monks as they sang and danced their way through more than six decades in the couple’s life, the lyrics and music blending to underscore each emotional theme along the way.

Sarah and George bring the audience along with them into the urgency and insecurity juxtaposed in the first flush of young love; the thrill of hope as one leaps into the future with another person; the anguish of self-doubt and disappointment in middle age; the redemptive relief of reconciliation and forgiveness; and the bittersweet nostalgia and impending loss that can accompany old age.

Derwingson’s score often drives the emotional tone. This is most notable in “Just Say Yes,” with percussion and chord progression creating a sense of urgency as Sarah responds to George’s marriage proposal, and in “The Stuff You Own,” which rhythmically and harmonically creates an ominous atmosphere when the couple’s life threatens to fracture and break.

King’s lyrics aptly and insightfully follow the characters’ thoughts and expression as they age.

A young Sarah, trying vainly to keep herself from taking the first steps toward love, decides rather quickly in “What Could Come of That?” that it’s “too late to take my own advice.” Years later, as she reflects on her life and her unhappiness with it, she sings in “What’s Missing from this Picture?” that, “I never thought tomorrow would look the same each day. What’s missing from this picture… is me.”

A young George begs Sarah as he courts her in “Someone Like You,” “Tell me that I’m someone for someone like you.”

Later, as middle age slips past, he laments in “That’s the Way it Is” that when he looks in the mirror he thinks, “Where was I when that happened?” and then joins Sarah in acknowledging how much time they spend “trying to forget what we can’t remember.”

The audiences during three weekend performances were treated to an unusual theatrical experience: the small stage set was set up behind the curtain onstage in the COS theater with seating on three sides. The actors did a good job playing to different sections of the audience during each scene; the proximity of stage set to seating created an atmosphere of intimacy well suited to a story so likely to touch the hearts and minds of everyone in the room.