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A busy 'chrysalis' is worth the effort

By MICHAEL ECK, Special to the Times Union
First published: Tuesday, July 17, 2001

* Review
GLENS FALLS -- The multitalented Gilles Chiasson is a singer-songwriter and an actor. Both sides of his psyche are at work in "chrysalis,'' his first stab at playwriting, which is now making its world premiere at the Adirondack Theatre Festival (of which Chiasson is a founding member).

Actors love high drama, and "chrysalis'' hits fever pitch early and stays there, making demands on the audience as well as the actors.

The story of "chrysalis'' is too busy -- piling one family problem on top of another to the point of distraction. This gang -- with a cold father, an adulterate mother, a closeted older son who won't leave the nest, a Peace Corps daughter and a wayward younger boy who won't stay home -- isn't just dysfunctional; they've cornered the market on it.

The great thing about "chrysalis,'' though, is that there just might be a fine show lurking under all of that stuff.

Chiasson made his name starring in "Rent,'' and while he admits a strong Jonathan Larson influence in his work, "chrysalis'' owes as much to The Who's "Tommy'' as it does anything else. In one shockingly familiar moment in the second act, Chiasson's main character, Chris, actually yells "I'm free'' with almost the same notes as that pinball kid. The pulsing, guitar-heavy arrangements and line cadences echo "Tommy'' as well.

Thankfully, no matter how much Chiasson tries to pack into "chrysalis,'' it's a clearer tale than "Tommy.''

Young photographer Chris, one of only two named characters in the play, comes home unannounced for Christmas, only to find no one home. By the time they all arrive, he's almost wishing they hadn't, because old grievances and alliances immediately come to the fore.

By the end of the second act, Chris is on his way out the door again with few of the family's problems genuinely solved, but all of them aired in song.

Fellow "Rent'' star Jim Poulos plays Chris with a winning grin and a fine, light voice. He gives Chris a lot of heart, but perhaps not enough depth -- mostly because Chiasson only lets the character talk about his torment rather than giving him a chance to show it.

Sheri Sanders is terrific as his sister, and she steals the show with a beautiful rendition of the show's strongest song, "Waiting for a Savior.'' The rest of the cast -- including Robert DuSold as the father -- is strong, too.

The set design -- which includes colored fluorescent lights and mini-models of the house's rooms -- is lovely too look at but every bit as busy as Chiasson's script.

This version of "chrysalis'' is wordy and sprawling, but worth checking out. And future versions -- trimmed and retooled -- will be even better. "CHYRSALIS'' Where: Adirondack Theatre Festival, former Woolworth's store theater, 217 Glen St., Glens Falls Performance reviewed: 8 p.m. Sunday Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes; one intermission Continues: 8 p.m. today, July 17, through SaturdayTickets: $19 Info: 798-7479;

Copyright 2001, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y. The information you receive online from Times Union is protected by the copyright laws of the United States.