As the program notes state, it’s “Not a concert, and not a play, The Longest Night is a meditation”, a very apt description for this program. Rather than a narrative or just a series of songs, this is an exploration of what the Winter Solstice is from scientific explanations to what it ultimately represents to the human condition. Weaving poetry and music, Bradley Greenwald has given us a unique and rewarding experience. The sources range from pop to classical, humorous to dark, narrative to abstract. Featuring a wealth of writers and composers such as Carole King, Sting, Ogden Nash, Joseph Campbell, Tom Jones, Margaret Atwood, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hart and Rodgers, and even Johann Sebastian Bach. After a humorous original “welcome” by Greenwald to music by Harvey Schmidt, the evening begins with the specific. The scientific data which explains what the Solstice is and why it occurs. From there we are taken from the specific to the broader interpretation of what early man thought of the shortening days. Throughout the production it’s a blending of the specific with the abstract and we go from a song about Amber and her Uncle to meditations of darkness.
Open eye theatre is an intimate setting and the combination of piano and single voice with a smattering of Baritone Horn thrown in is the perfect balance for the room. Greenwald has a rich baritone voice which he employs equally well in song and recitation of the poems. Containing within his voice the ability to embody an impish humor while also bringing the gravitas required of a couple of the more dramatic pieces. He has also compiled and constructed the various works into such a way that they flow effortlessly into one another. During one section, the reading of a poem actually created a sense memory of being out in the cold while sitting in a comfortably cozy theatre. Then bringing us back into the warm with a well placed humorous song. Thompson cleary a very talented musician effortlessly supports Greenwald finding the perfect timing to help transition into the next selection.
The benefit of a show like this, whatever your tastes are there is likely something for you. Nothing last so long as to outstay it’s welcome and for most attendees, including me, everything will work. My favorite single section was the song “The Christians and the Pagans” by Dar Williams. A humorous song that moved me unexpectedly, as it touched on family and differences in beliefs, finding the common ground and focusing on that. I loved the variety the different ways to look at and explore this idea of winter and the longest night. Dealing with topics as far ranging as mythology, celebrations and Seasonal Affective Disorder. Ending with a discussion of why so many cultures throughout history have based celebrations around this time. It finishes on a note of optimism that is sorely needed every year at this time and perhaps these last few years more than ever.
The Longest Night runs a little over an hour making it a very manageable weeknight show. It plays through the actual Winter Solstice December 21st at Open Eye theatre in Minneapolis for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.openeyetheatre.org/the-longest-night