The Magnetic Theatre has opened its 2018 season with Night Music, a powerful new work from local playwright David Brendan Hopes. But despite the title, there’s no real music here beyond a sort-of performance of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Instead, Hopes and director Christine Eide have painted a touching coming-of-age relationship drama about the triangle involving three young people somewhere in the mountains of North Carolina or Virginia — but it could take place anywhere.
The show serves as somewhat of a mirror for the audience, many of whom may recognize themselves at one point or another in their past or current lives. While the characters are young, Night Music is filled with adult emotions of friendship, love, betrayal, anger, hurt and loss.
The material requires serious acting, and Eide gets strong performances from the trio of Nick Biggs, Samuel Quinn Morris and Serena Dotson-Smith. The characters age from their early teens to young adulthood while grappling with issues many people will face.
Night Music opens with a mountain camping trip by Cleve (Morris) and athletic Jesse (Biggs), and while the two boys have little in common, they form a bond that becomes a strong friendship. Meanwhile, miles away, Philomela — or Phil, as she calls herself — notices the lights on the mountain and longs to know what’s going on there.
Eventually, the three meet. Phil and Cleve attend the same school for gifted students and become a couple, while Jesse is in public school and joins Little League. Over time, they all come together, and it becomes obvious that in this threesome, one will be left out.
But who winds up with whom? That uncertainty powers Night Music through its second act, as emotions bounce back and forth. There are several surprise twists before it’s all done.
As Cleve, Morris gives a strong turn as the smart one in this bunch, wrestling with insecurity in his relationship with Phil. It’s pretty obvious just how much he needs her or someone in his life.
Biggs comes through as the emotionally stronger Jesse, trying to figure out his feelings for Phil, but it’s uncertain how much he actually cares or if he does at all. Is it just hormones that are working, or is there any heart in there?
In between, Dotson-Smith really shines as Phil, who seems equally attracted to both boys. It’s a great bit of acting that really carries Night Music along.
As the show ends, the three characters are in their late teens and still together, their odd dynamic continuing to play out but with less emotional turmoil. There’s some adult subject matter here in the final scene, so keep that in mind if that bothers you, but it all rings very true.
WHAT: Night Music
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, Feb. 17. Thursdays-Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. $16.