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The 'Life And Times' Takes Audiences On A Lengthy Journey

Jan 26, 2013
Originally published on January 26, 2013 6:34 pm



Hey, thanks for sticking with us. It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Smith.

Opening this week in New York City, you can see a musical that demands a little something extra from its audience: endurance. The show is called "Life and Times," and it is more than 10 hours from start to finish. It's a production of Soho Rep at the Public Theater. And before the musical starts, the audience has that focus that you only see in marathon runners, preparing for the long haul.

I notice you are fiercely shoving sushi into your mouth because this is going to be a long performance.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yes. There's been a lot of coffee.

SMITH: Did you stretch?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I went for a long walk right before this.

SMITH: The lines for the restrooms go around the corner. Nobody was quite sure if...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: We're getting breaks, right, to use the bathroom?

SMITH: Yeah, yeah, you'll get breaks. So what epic tale could take more than 10 hours to tell? Henry V? The Bible? Not quite. "Life and Times" is the story of one average woman's life. The creators of the musical called her on the phone a few years ago out of the blue and they said: Tell me your life story - all of it - from the very beginning. And they recorded every stutter, every false start.


KRISTIN WORRALL: Um, so shall I start? OK. Um...

SMITH: And that right there? That's the script.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as Kristin Worrall) (Singing) Um, so shall I start? OK. Um...

SMITH: One cast member after another picks up the remembrance.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as Kristin Worrall) (Singing) What's the - oh, yes. Oh, and I do remember, um...

SMITH: And once the words finally start flowing, we are inside the memories of Kristin Worrall, child of suburban Providence, Rhode Island.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as Kristin Worrall) (Singing) And they didn't expect me. They planned both my brother and sister before me. And so my mother says that she was very happy that I was a girl. And she was like: You were so beautiful. And I didn't cry a lot, I don't think. I was very peaceful.

SMITH: We hear about first grade teachers, art projects, a very dramatic dance class. But even the cast admits at one point...


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) God, this must be so boring for you.

SMITH: And, yes, yes, it can sometimes be mind-crushingly dull.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Character) (Singing) I'm sorry.

SMITH: Surprisingly, most of the time, no apology is needed. The stories are hilarious, and the language is addictive. It's like listening in on someone's secret thoughts. Pavol Liska is the co-creator of the work. His company is called the Nature Theater of Oklahoma. And Pavol says he never intended this to be quite the epic it turned out to be.

PAVOL LISKA: Originally, I was going to talk to several people and ask them to tell me their life story and compile one project out of multiple stories.

SMITH: Pavol wasn't interested in any particular story but the way we tell stories - the rhythm of, you know, how we, like, speak today. Kristin Worrall just happened to be first on Pavol's list. She says he didn't tell her at first what the project was really about.

WORRALL: I assumed I was going to, you know, just be edited with a bunch of other people, and it was going to be a montage, and I'd be anonymous. So, yes, I was completely speaking off the cuff and, you know, telling him about 17 crushes I had in elementary school. I mean, who cares about that stuff?

SMITH: Turns out Pavol did. At the end of a two-hour phone call, they had only made up to year eight of her life. So he called her back, over and over, recording each time. Pavol and his co-creator, Kelly Copper, say what they loved about Kristin's life was the exact opposite of what Hollywood looks for. It was fairly unremarkable, no major trauma, no life-altering romance, no explosions. It's life as most of us remember.

LISKA: What we were interested in is to take something that's not art at all, that's not even close to art, and beat our heads against the wall to figure out how the hell do we make this into art.

KELLY COPPER: And in a way, music is the most formally challenging thing you could do to it. It's the least realistic.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) And then everyone, like, sort of acknowledged that I was, like, the smartest kid in the class. And I really wanted to maintain that status and (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as Kristin Worrall) (Singing) And, uh, I don't really remember much from fourth grade.

SMITH: The music gets more complex. A disco beat hits as Kristin enters adolescence. We get first kisses, sneaking cigarettes, heartbreak at the school dance. All these trivial stories start to add up, though. They start to become a moving portrait of how serious everything seemed when we were teenagers.

The musical started at 2 p.m. There are a couple breaks - cast serves dinner, dessert. It is almost midnight when Kristin gets through high school. And there it ends, with the ominous words: to be continued. I asked Pavol Liska: As enjoyable as this all is, did it really have to be this much of a marathon? He said he thinks of it like going to the gym.

LISKA: You're not going to go to a gym and get a good workout if somehow you're not sweating and have - be in a little bit of pain afterwards. This is the same thing to me. It's a total body workout, even for your, you know...

SMITH: Yeah - my back...

LISKA: Yeah.

SMITH: ...hurt a little bit after this.

LISKA: It's a workout for your body, you know? I feel like I won that for myself.

SMITH: Pavol Liska is the director, along with Kelly Copper, of "Life and Times." If you are weak of fortitude, I suggest watching it in shorter sections - they do offer that option. The marathon sessions go on Saturdays. In fact, they're all trapped there right now, as we speak, probably somewhere around eighth grade.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (as Kristin Worrall) (Singing) I dreamed that song, I walked, I was about to walk up to Matt Wolf(ph). And I was, like, just about to, like, tap him on his shoulder. And then he went and asked Jennifer Wilts(ph) to go dance with him. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.