WESTON, Vt. – Joe Iconis eased into the Wednesday evening performance at the Walker Farm Theater, affectionately referring to the brand-new building as “yet another barn in Vermont.”
“But,” he added, “this barn is special: inside is musical theater!” His eponymous “Joe Iconis and Family,” the first production at the Weston Playhouse Walker Farm, ran Oct. 1 – 8. The show, rollicking and sentimental, youthful yet timeless-feeling, felt at home in the fresh theater.
The show’s format combined what Iconis called “short stories set to music” with unabashed cabaret enthusiasm. Behind that veneer of all-grins confidence lurked bittersweet humor. Each musical number was simultaneously hilarious and lonely, the lyrics laced with hints of dread and self-doubt.
Not that there’s a manifest storyline, but troupe members repeatedly end up (unintentionally) solo on Friday and Saturday nights while cooler people ostensibly frolic happily elsewhere. Lauren Marcus faced this sadness: “I put a party hat—on my cat!” she sang, pantomiming the forced frivolity of the desperately lonely. In another number, George Salazar feigned indifference at unresponsive friends, but eventually devolved into a panicked and furious chorus – everyone’s at the bar without him, and it’s awful and unfair.
The interior of the theater itself, a simple rectangle clad in warm, blond wood panels, receded as the momentum of the evening builds. For Iconis’ production, the seats were oriented along one long wall, facing toward a simple platform stage in the middle. Producing Artistic Director Steve Stettler claims the space can be configured in “over a dozen” layouts, meaning that the theater can flex to the ideas of the playwrights and artists, not the other way around.
It was a beautiful night, and Iconis seemed genuinely thankful that the audience has chosen musical theater over the spectacle of the huge harvest moon and the mountain twilight just outside. In a town where the population now barely exceeds the combined seat count of the two theaters (300 at the main Playhouse; 140 at the new Walker Farm), the turnout for a Wednesday night was indeed strong.
No character in “Joe Iconis and Family” is happy in love or fortune. But they are very funny – not to mention multi-talented; each cast member juggles multiple instruments, sings and acts. The night ended in good cheer. The audience seemed to have picked up some of the performers’ eager energy. As families and friends walked to cars, many exclaimed that they couldn’t wait to see what happens next at Walker Farm.