SEE WHAT I WANT TO SEE receives a bravura production from Megan Nicole O’Brien and 11th Hour. But show biz brightness is not always enough, the noir section that accounts for WANNA SEE’s first act is underdone by composer Michael John LaChiusa and a bit overbaked by O’Brien.
It is also lacking in one core performance that makes the piece seems more like an exercise in presenting a genre rather than an homage to, or send-up, of it. Except for the most basic of curiosity, you really don’t buy into or care much about the “Rashomon” approach to LaChiusa’s adaptation of a Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s story. Jake Blouch is magnificent and reveals a powerful yet well-toned voice in this sequence, but learning about that voice is the only discovery that turns out to matter. Playing for satire or with genuine noir austerity might have been better than the straight down the middle route O’Brien took, however lively. WANNA SEE’s second act fares better, but while it is far-fetched it truly involves you with a sincere man’s battle with faith, allows you to enjoy a simple, impulsively mischievous hoax that gets out of hand, and treats you to several fine performances, most notably by Billy Bustamante as a priest tormented by challenges to once-firm beliefs and Nancie Sanderson as his atheist mother. Jake Blouch scores well in this segment, too. (He’s just a fine, commanding actor who can being shades to what could easily be left to straightforward characterization.) With its irony, Bustamante’s genuine conundrum, and Sanderson’s marvelous rendition of a LaChiusa song assessing religion, the second half of 11th Hour’s WANNA SEE redeems the entertaining enough but texturally empty first act. LaChiusa’s music is more tuneful and playful than most, but snappy melody cannot always hide or make up for empty dullness.
[Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N. American Street] April 28-May 15, 2016; 11thhourtheatrecompany.org.