Sing Muse

The cast sings together with ease, but this new work hasn't yet found its voice

100% inspiration: the cast of <i>Sing Muse</i>
100% inspiration: the cast of Sing Muse

Sing Muse

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 478-5282
Through Aug. 11
Running time: 2 hr., 10 min.

O for a muse of art, that would descend and bring me inspiration to write! That's how Shakespeare might have summoned his goddess, but the nine divines in director Rudy Ramirez's new devised piece Sing Muse prefer a slightly different invocation. "Hello, this is 1-800-SING-MUSE, how may we inspire you?"

Ramirez and his stellar ensemble emphasize that the goddesses of this workshop production at the Vortex are neither Homeric nor Disneyfied. They're emotional and fallible, proud and vengeful, fearful and curious – and they sure know how to hold a grudge. The script, culled from more than a year of workshops and improvisations, begins with a family reunion: After some two millennia apart, the sisters assemble to bring their ancient foe Thamyris out of hell, where he's been since he challenged them to a battle after their inspiration failed to win his homosexual lover Hyacinth's heart. But the unusual gathering originates not from a desire to rescind Thamyris' punishment; Thalia, muse of comedy, realizes that releasing him from Hades' clutches is the only way to renew the muses' withering relationship with humans, a link they severed when they sent Thamyris down under.

Sing Muse's greatest strength is its ensemble, which moves, speaks, and sings together easily. The group scenes are well-timed and rarely feel forced. Individually, the actors succeed in differentiating their characters, personifying each art without hitting us with blunt stereotypes. Hayley Armstrong, who plays Urania, muse of astronomy, is delightfully nerdy and plays a great straight woman to Karen Rodriguez's infectiously funny Thalia. Jennifer Coy also commands attention as the motherly Polyhymnia, muse of hymns and religious poetry, and Laura Ray brings a subtle, down-to-earth energy to the stage as Clio, muse of history. Chelsea Manasseri's original musical compositions are almost heavenly, incorporating such disparate genres as hymn, country, and pop.

Like many a new play, Sing Muse has its inconsistencies. Ramirez and company give each muse a spotlight scene, which works well to showcase the actress' dramaturgical work but hinders the narrative. Thamyris (Jonathan Itchon, compelling as ever) engages in meaningful dialogue with all the muses, but the equitable division of parts denies the audience a single mortal-muse connection to focus on and root for. This girl group needs a Beyoncé. The structure also makes for an overwhelming piece of drama thematically – it's about homosexuality, love, art, failure, redemption, justice, mercy, and the increasing irrelevance of the divine, but I had difficulty discerning which of these are the most important to the play's creators. What is Sing Muse really about? That said, I have no doubt that with some compression, cutting, and polishing, Sing Muse will prove to be a diamond of a devised work.

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Sing Muse, Vortex Repertory Company, Rudy Ramirez, Hayley Armstrong, Karen Rodriguez, Jennifer Coy, Laura Ray, Chelsea Manasseri, Jonathan Itchon

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