Though it's been a hub for new plays for 47 years, San Francisco's Magic Theatre doesn't do a lot of musicals. But it's doing one right now with the world premiere of Arlington, a one-act piece by returning playwright Victor Lodato, whose plays The Eviction and 3F, 4F debuted at the Magic.
Arlington is almost more of an opera than a musical, because it's delivered almost entirely in song, with only the occasional spoken line for effect. It's also very nearly a solo piece, the musical monologue of young military wife Sara Jane as she waits for her husband to come home from Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever. But pianist Jeff Pew is a constant presence as well, occasionally speaking or singing a line as absent husband Jerry or as Sara Jane's father in a long-ago memory. Some sections function as distinct songs, sometimes even with a blackout between them, while others simply meander with Sara Jane making conversation.
Jackson Gay's staging makes frequent and effective use of Jeff Rowlings' lights (and especially of darkness) to set the mood. In the beginning, Pew's piano is almost entirely drowned out by Sara Huddleston's booming sounds of thunder, rain and wind. The whole play takes place in Sara Jane's living room, captured by just a few furnishings in Erik Flatmo's elegantly spare set: a comfy chair with matching ottoman, and two pianos -- one for her and one for Pew.
Analisa Leaming in Arlington
Sara Jane (the resemblance of her name to a long-running Doctor Who character is probably mere coincidence) chats away at us as if we're an old friend who's just stopped in for a visit. When her mother comes by, we skip that part and then catch up with her immediately afterward, as she tells us how it went. The usual "Who are you talking to?" effect that often comes up in monologues is even addressed in a sly way at one point, when Sara Jane looks at us and says, "Who are you, anyway?" But nothing ever comes of it; it's just an aside that ties into a recurring theme about how strangers are scary and we're all ultimately strangers, sometimes even to ourselves.