He Said, She Said: ‘The Open House’ Has a Bullying Dad, ‘Stage Kiss’ Follows a Quirky Couple, ‘Arlington’ Is a Musical Monologue

And all’s well that ends well in 'The Happiest Song Plays Last'

But it’s all very smartly written—each character is unique, quirky and very funny—and it’s splendidly acted, and Rebecca Taichman’s sharp direction milks those sources for all they’re worth. If the play isn’t entirely successful, it’s because its reach somewhat exceeds its grasp. Ms. Ruhl tries to offer more than just comedy, but Stage Kiss is at its best when it’s simply delivering laughs.

Alexandra Silber in 'Arlington.'

Alexandra Silber in ‘Arlington.’

Arlington, which opened Sunday at the Vineyard Theatre, is another play about the Iraq War, another play about family, another fable about love. It’s a fascinating, unusual, unexpected exercise that makes a noble effort but ultimately fails.

It’s a one-character musical—a sole woman, Sara Jane (Alexandra Silber), on a bright living room set, with a single musician (Ben Moss) at a piano behind a scrim. In the hour we spend with them, Sara Jane delivers essentially a musical monologue, sort of an extended aria, recounting her life, her hopes, her fears. She starts off vacuous and bubbly, arranging flowers and nattering about lunch with her mother. Along the way, we slowly learn that she’s shy, anxious, awkward and married to a deployed soldier, who may or may not be so fond of her. She’s also pregnant and largely convinced her husband has committed atrocities against Arab children.

Ms. Silber’s performance is extraordinary, at once vulnerable and forceful, confident and in fine voice for the duration. The music, by Polly Pen, is melodic and lovely, and the lyrics, by Victor Lodato, who also wrote the book, are sometimes witty and sometimes revelatory.

The director, Carolyn Cantor, works to hold audience interest: Ms. Silber is as dynamic as it is possible to be as a solo performer in one small set, plus Mr. Moss is brought into the action as a version of Sara Jane’s husband, with lights rising on him behind the scrim. But still, it becomes nearly impossible to remain focused for the full duration of the short run time. This is arguably Ms. Cantor’s fault—it’s the director’s job to stage a compelling show—but it also might just be the mix of content and form. It’s possible a bouncy, sung-through musical isn’t the ideal way to discuss the horrors of modern war.