Is the border between life and death more permeable than we imagine? In Patrick Emile’s new musical, “As We Lie Still,” a Jewish magician in Jazz Age New York performs a shocking, mind-bending trick every night on stage — until the fateful night when the trick fails, and his life and career are changed forever. “As We Lie Still” is running at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in Midtown.
Directed by Michael Serrecchia (who appeared in the original cast of “A Chorus Line” in 1975), “As We Lie Still” centers on Avi Leiter (played, at different stages of his life, by Michael A. Robinson and Travis Steubing), who achieves renown by ending his magic show by shooting his beautiful assistant, Josephine (Olivia de Guzman Emile, who also wrote the musical’s book and is married to its composer), and then bringing her back to life.
What Avi does not know is that Josephine does not actually die each night, but enters a Limbo (a kind of afterlife) that is presided over by Azriel (George Michael Ferrie, Jr.), a medieval Jewish mystical figure. When Josephine develops a relationship with Azriel and decides to remain in his realm, Avi is ruined and carted off to jail. The story is told decades later, in flashbacks, as Avi attempts to revive his career with one last spectacular illusion.
Patrick Emile, who lives in Dallas, is of mixed Irish Catholic and Caribbean ancestry. He won the 2014 Frederick Loewe Award for Musical Theatre. His musical, “Happily Ever After,” inspired by the Grimm Brothers, was performed at the New York Fringe Festival in 2011. “As We Lie Still” was workshopped in Dallas in 2012 and was presented earlier this year in a staged reading at Western Kentucky University.
The score is based on Broadway show tunes, contemporary melodies, minimalist compositions and traditional Jewish folk music; it includes such songs as “Misdirection” and “Here Where I Stand.” The musical’s title is reminiscent of William Faulkner’s celebrated 1930 novel, “As I Lay Dying.”
In an interview, Emile told The Jewish Week that “As We Lie Still” is a “bittersweet” magical realist play that centers on themes of failure, success, regret and atonement. “It’s about what happens when we slow down to the point of stillness,” he said. “And it’s about the magician’s Ahab-like obsession with fame, and how it ruins him — until it leads to his possible redemption.”
“As We Lie Still” is running for three more performances at PTC Performance Space, 555 W. 42nd St. Shows are Tuesday, July 22 at 9 p.m., Thursday, July 24 at 5 p.m., and Sunday, July 27 at 5 p.m. For tickets, $25, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111 or visit www.nymf.org.