Have you ever been walking down the street in some busy metropolis and wondered, as hordes of people pass by, “What is she thinking?” or “I wonder what his back story is?”
Well, that is sort of what the show “The Longing and the Short of It,” now at Arts Garage in Delray Beach through Nov. 24, is like. The song cycle by Daniel Mate is akin to telepathically listening to the inner dialogue of various people as they negotiate the dry humor that often helps one to swallow the bitter pills of big-city life: paralyzing insecurities, existential crises and feeble loneliness.
It’s either that or the therapy sessions from Jerry Seinfeld, Elaine May and Woody Allen transcribed and set to music, somewhere between coffeehouse strumming and showtune-cabaret cleverness.
The show includes no dialogue, but there’s no need for any. Each of the 23 songs is a mini-scene, in which Mate mind-melds with many downtown denizens, such as a neurotic woman blissfully anticipating tough love from loved ones in “Intervention” and a panic-stricken man wondering how life has delivered him to purgatory in Starbucks with “Just Another Schmuck at the Coffee Bar.”
They’re not all that sunny. Much of “The Longing and the Short of It” seems to be in the key of wistfulness, with song after song bemoaning the emotional snares and ego-searing that love can bring. Romantic rejection is a subtheme, and Mate has much to say on the subject in “Before I Go,” “Misery Loves My Company” and “I Don’t Want To Know.”
And there are some simply lovely love songs, such as the wry “You Make My Brain Work Right” and the sly “If I Wrote a Song.”
The only problem — and if a song cycle is going to have a problem, then this is the best kind to have — is a surfeit of terrific material. The second act needs to shave off at least two songs to make the show tighter, wieldier and less “Wait, didn’t we just paint from this palette a minute ago?”
If anything can keep the performance buoyant, it just may be this cast of six singers supported by four musicians (the piano player, in particular, added plenty of sass here and there). Mate may have won the 2013 Kleban Prize for the Most Promising Musical Theatre Lyricist, but the 10 people on stage have to make the musical magic work for 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. And they do.
IF YOU GO:
“The Longing and the Short of It”
Where: The Theatre at Arts Garage, 180 NE First St., Delray Beach
Contact: 561-450-6357 or ArtsGarage.org.