Theater review: ‘February House’ offers glimpse of 1940s Brooklyn

"February House" runs now through June 10. Visit www.publictheater.org for ticket information.

There are many things to love about Brooklyn today, but the musical “February House” proves that it’s always been a magical place.
 
Based on true events, the musical is about a group of artists that transform a decrepit house in Brooklyn Heights into a bohemian commune in the early 1940s.
 
The story kicks off with book editor George Davis (Julian Fleisher) assembling a group of roommates. The residents include novelist Carson McCullers (Kristen Sieh), composer Benjamin Britten (Stanley Bahorek), poet W.H. Auden (Erik Lochtefeld) and the famous burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee (Kacie Sheik). Residing at 7 Middagh Street, the tenants are more than just roommates. Their friendships turn familial as they all search for inspiration, love and refuge from World War II.
 
Their address is nicknamed “February House” because so many of its residents have birthdays that month. That’s about as much as they have in common, though. Fights break out, money is tight, bed bugs bite and a whole lot of alcohol is poured as relationships develop, deteriorate and build up again.

While the dilapidated home may barely be standing, each character makes the set his own. McCullers is usually found attempting to write on an old typewriter, Pears and Britten often gather around the grand piano, while Erika Mann is often pouring herself a drink in the living room. The only time all characters come together around a long dining room table is during a tense New Year’s Eve dinner, which results in more arguing, fighting and broken hearts.

The actors offer a mixed bag of energy on the stage, but it’s the ladies that steal the show. Sieh’s soft voice leaves a lasting impression, while Sheik’s bubbly yet brassy personality dominates.

There is nothing flashy about the music, yet it covers an array of emotions during the two-and-a-half-hour show. “A Certain Itch” offers a humorous, silly outlook on something New Yorkers rarely laugh about: bed bugs. Late in the show, Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten joyfully sing about moving to the far-warmer-than-New York California to eat yogurt and do yoga. But it’s the feeling of nostalgia that comes when you know something great has just ended that reigns as the cast says “Goodnight to the Boardinghouse.”
 
Today, it is impossible to revisit the intellectual hub of 7 Middagh Street, as the building was demolished to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

‘February House’
Through June 10
Public Theater
425 Lafayette Street
212-539-8500
www.publictheater.org


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