We gave it a B-
The Power of Now. Let Go and Live in the Now. Living in the Now. The Present: The Gift That Makes You Happy and Successful in Work and at Life. Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment—and Your Life. The Precious Present. Those are just six of the 100-plus books available in Amazon’s self-help section that will teach you to be happy by learning mindfulness—the state of living in the present and appreciating the moment you are in. Mindfulness helps cure depression and anxiety, the guides claim. But it’s hard as hell to master. Now. Here. This., an ultimately disappointing Off Broadway musical from the team behind the Tony-nominated [title of show], aims to help you with a little song and dance.
Picture an episode of Sesame Street that shuns teaching letters, numbers, and kindness for imparting the wisdom of self-help guru Eckhart Tolle—without puppets, of course?and you pretty much know what to expect from Now. Here. This. Actors Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell (who wrote the musical’s book) and Jeff Bowen and Heidi Blickenstaff (who are credited, along with director Michael Beresse and musical director Larry Pressgrove, as their ”collaborators”) play themselves as four friends who decide to take a break from modern life (the TV, the texting, the Groupons) for a trip to a natural history museum. There, they struggle to appreciate the exhibits as their minds wander. And wander they do: Each room brings up a different memory from one of the actors’ childhood or teen years (coming out, acting out, hiding out) and each memory elicits a musical number.
Blackwell’s Indigo Girls-eque ”That’ll Never Be Me,” about wanting to be older, taller, smarter, richer etc., is the melodic standout. But you’ll laugh the most during Bowen’s ”Dazzle Camouflage,” which chronicles the painful and hilarious lengths to which he went to hide that he was gay until he was midway through college. To distract other students from his true self, he was the school funny guy (”class clown camouflage”), the laid-back guy (”joe cool camouflage”), and the ladies’ man (”girlfriend camouflage”). ”The hours I spend holding hands with girls is equaled only by the hours I spend in my bedroom making my super hero actionfigures to go at it,” Bowen says about his teen days, seconds before Bell, Blackwell and Blickenstaff jump in to enact a Batman, Aquaman, Green Lantern threesome.
Yet watching a quartet of actors telling us to live in the present by reliving their pasts convolutes the musical’s message. When the four realize they should appreciate their wonderful ”presents,” which are full of friends just like them, it’s because they bond over their mutual love of watching 1982’s Tootsie on VHS. In short, what brings them together (and makes them happy) is a shared appreciation for the past, the media, and technology—three things they otherwise go to great lengths to classify as life’s meaningless distractions. B?
(Tickets: Vineyardtheatre.org or 212-353-0303)