Tucked away in the maze of business parks off of Old Conejo Road in Newbury Park, you'll find the Jeanette Airen Performing Arts Studio, a two-room black box style space in which owner and co-director Jeanette Airen provides an instructive place where self-expression is celebrated.
Airen acquired the studio back in late-2019, and her first show in the space is "The Theory of Relativity," which premiered at the National Alliance for Musical Theater's Festival of New Musicals in 2015. It is co-directed here by Airen and Connor Stevens (who also stars as Oliver).
"Relativity," which is not a musical version of the Stephen Hawking film "The Theory of Everything," as this audience member originally assumed, but speaks about that uncertain time in one's young life where the future feels both millions of miles away, but also one step forward at the same time. Many people refer to this time as "college." And, indeed, "Relativity" is the perfect college show (in the best way possible).
The characters are all college-aged, and - in a very "35mm" way - take turns telling their stories through song until you realize that most of them are connected in ways you don't expect. They sing about love - falling into and out of it - and the consequences of such emotions, both good and bad. They sing about expectations and legacy, and how gazing into the unknown future can be just as frightening as looking back into your past.
In all, the stories told in these songs are emotional, heartfelt, and real, and they lend themselves well to the black box setting with their minimalist production.
All of the cast members in Airen's and Stevens' show are featured to great result, and all deserve their time in the light. Bradley Cusack, who plays Ryan, delivers an exceptionally emotional performance as he sings an effective song called "Footprint." Caitlyn Massey similarly drives incredible feeling into her solo number, "Me & Rickey," which twists and turns from the comically familiar to the tragically real.
Frankie Zabilka shows his comedy chops in "I'm Allergic to Cats," while also easily displaying his singing ability. Similarly, Tianna Cohen (who also choreographed the complicated movements throughout the audience space) provides a funny and heartwarming moment with "Julie's Song."
Returning several times to the spotlight throughout the show is Malissa Marlow, playing Catherine, who tells an ongoing story about her concern with other people's dirty hands and how her boyfriend made her a "Cake" with his bare hands. It's continually funny, and - like so many other segments of "Relativity" - eventually reaches a touching conclusion.
Lauren Rachel and Haley Ashlin are very funny and extremely charismatic throughout, but especially during their duet number, "The End of the Line," which chronicles how best friends can drift apart over time.
Stevens and James Graham sing a very empowering song about self-identity called "Apples & Oranges," and it's one of the most feel-good moments in the whole show. Where Ayla DuMont, playing Mira (short for Miracle), tells a deeply touching story utilizing prop roses that are handed out to the cast and audience members, which suddenly take on a different meaning as the song concludes. Brilliant direction, there.
Grant Goldstein not only plays the perpetually unsure Anthony, giving us a very fun story about falling for the woman in the line at the coffee shop, but he also hops into the band with his bass guitar to provide a groovy, bluesy, riff during "Me & Rickey."
Finally, Michael S. Robinson and Jacqui Grilli play Adam and Amy, respectively, and both are solid as two young adults who cannot make up their minds, so unsure of how to proceed. Robinson, like Marlow's Catherine, returns to the spotlight repeatedly to provide us with updates on his journey with the very cleverly written "Pi." And we don't get to know Grilli's Amy until the very end, where she is afforded a decent chunk of time and succinctly wraps up the show.
It was a very effecting, emotionally driven show that you should definitely see if given the opportunity. The bare-bones production value not only serves the modest studio well, but also helps to immerse the close-enough-to-touch audience into the world of these characters as they rush, twirl, pulse, and dance by.
"The Theory of Relativity" ran at the Jeanette Airen Performing Arts Studio at 3537 Old Conejo Rd., #108, Newbury Park, 91320, from February 7th - 16th. For more information about the studio and the many performance-based services that it provides, visit www.jeanetteairen.com.