The spark that ignites the new musical “Triangle,” now presented in a world premiere production at TheatreWorks, is not the discarded match or the still glowing end of an insufficiently stubbed cigarette that the New York Fire Marshall conjectured started the infamous, deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company on March 25, 1911, but the spark of love that inflames the hearts of the principal characters in the show. This ingeniously crafted work, with music and lyrics by Curtis Moore and Thomas Mizer, respectively, and book by Moore, Mizer and Joshua Sher, tells parallel tales of doomed love in 1911 linked to the powerful potential of a love in 2011 that teeters on the brink of irrevocable loss.
The stories are anchored in place on the ninth floor of the Brown Building (formerly the Asch Building) situated on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in Greenwich Village where all 146 victims of the 1911 fire worked, and which now houses New York University science labs. During a ceremony commemorating the centennial of the fire, Brian (Ross Lekites), a shy, insecure post-doc researcher, encounters an enthusiastic young man name Ben (Zachary Prince) who has a family interest in the fire. They have a moment of intense attraction from which Brian recoils, fearing the potential hurt of loss. When he learns that where he works is the very spot where so many tragically lost their lives, he becomes obsessed with story and researches to uncover one of the enduring mysteries of the event – the identities of the man and woman who were seen standing in a window of the ninth floor kissing before plunging to their deaths.
The cast is simply superb. The engaging Mr. Lekites gives a magnificent performance in the role of Brian singing and acting with surpassing passion, never more so than in his second act aria “Drive Away.” Mr. Prince is no less passionate and skilled. As Ben, he is giddily smitten, then hurt and confused by rejection. As Vicenzo, a foreman at the shirtwaist factory, he is just as passionate in his growing love for the Jewish immigrant, Sarah (beguiling Megan McGinnis), a new ninth floor hireling. His performance affirms that human love is not about gender.
Svelte and beautiful, Sharon Rietkirk in the dual roles of Brian’s colleague Cynthia and Sara’s sister, Chaya, sings with nuanced power. Laura D’Andre makes a fine foil as Vicenzo’s sister Theresa and research boss Dr. Zimmerman, and a commanding Rolf Saxon does triple duty as the factory boss, a Triangle devotee Howard, and Sarah’s rigid, righteous father.
As a property, “Triangle” is beguiling. The cunning structure of the piece allows for easy segues between scenes in 1911 and 2011. Musically, the pop-rock score makes for seamless transitions between dialogue and song that, moreover, supports the telling of the story and its emotional content.
Scenically, Daniel Zimmerman’s architectural design supports both the script and the title. The representation of the ninth floor of the Asch-Brown Building with its squared pillars, enormous windows and high ceiling, is skewed so that the set has an offset corner upstage eliminating the famous fourth wall, making the proscenium a third wall, thus producing a triangle. The pillars between the windows slide rapidly on and off making new rooms out of the vast space. Paul Toben’s terrific lighting design is key in making the century transitions and in changing moods from bright fluorescent lab to murky tenement to smoky factory floor. Musical Director James Sampliner and his ensemble are one with the performers and the sound design of Brendan Aanes is flawless.
“Triangle” is a triumph. It is not to be missed!
“Triangle” runs through August 2 at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto.