THE FANTASTICKS -- At the Olney Theater through September 20.
Besides a time in September, "The Fantasticks" asks us to remember "that place where you hid away in the shadows from the tyranny of time." The show itself seems safe from the winds of change: It's been running at the Sullivan Street Playhouse in New York City since it opened there in May 1960, making it the longest-running musical in the world, and the second-longest-running show, after "Mousetrap."
"The Fantasticks" has been in and out of Washington. Now in an incarnation at the Olney, it's an evening that only people with a high tolerance for simplicity can enjoy: a child-like love story on an almost bare stage.
It's not without its charms, though -- in this production in the form of two traveling thespians who leap from a trunk: The Actor (John Elko), straining visibly at fractured Shakespeare, and The Man Who Dies (William G. Clark), jiggling his potbelly and charming the audience with his Johnny Carson eyes. The overall energy for the show radiates from The Narrator, played by Jerry Whiddon.
In part one, The Boy, strictly from high school, and The Girl, winsome if not imbecilic, fall in love. Their fathers feign disapproval, which of course tightens the bond, the philosophy being, "To manipulate children, merely say no." In part two, reality hits them, but everything works out in the end.
They sing some songs along the way, notably "Try to Remember," "Soon It's Gonna Rain" and "They Were You," to the strains of a gentle quartet. In the boredom that sometimes happens in mid-song, one can watch The Mute (Michael Nostrand) -- a Puck in black leotards who projects a comforting presence as "the wall" -- to see if he's smiling, or even moving. He's one of the very few props in this show, which changes its scenes with a change of lighting.
After 21 years, is the Fantasticks dated? That the traditional romance may be yesterday's flower is pointed up in an exchange between The Girl (Karen Wald) and The Boy (David Bush). She says their love "should be made into an epic." He says, "I'll write it." "A shrine!" she says. "I'll build it!" he says. The Girl adores this; but a more modern woman might respond, "No you won't, we will." Or even, "I will."