TAMPA — The stage is set for a concert and the show starts as a conversation, but both impressions belie the glory ahead.
Once Abigail and Shaun Bengson begin to share their love story, a powerful, intimate, musical journey takes hold.
Hundred Days, running through March 24 at the Jaeb Theater at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, is a 75-minute emotional escape that hits the soul, especially the longing one.
Anchored by a talented cast playing cello, accordion, drums and keyboard, with the Bengsons on guitar, the show's folk rock and punk rhythms thunder through love's joy and pain.
The Bengsons met in New York City as young musicians and bonded in a booth at a diner in Queens. On their second date, they moved in together. After three weeks, they got married. That was 12 years ago. Hundred Days is the story of their whirlwind romance, a project they wrote together and have performed since 2014.
Abigail leads the conversation, confessing to the audience early on what she didn't immediately confess to Shaun when they met: Something tragic and awful happened in her family when she was 15.
At the same time, she describes a premonition, something that hit her during that trauma but never left her consciousness. Abigail imagined meeting the love of her life and soon finding out he only had a hundred days to live.
This emotional backdrop is what Abigail brings to bear as she illuminates their all-consuming love and her immense fear that she'll lose it.
Powerful jams and isolating vocals color the story, with El Beh on cello, Ashley Baier on drums, Barrie Lobo McLain on accordion and the luminous Lindsey Augusta Mercer on keyboard and background vocals.
The Jaeb is a 300-seat theater at the east end of the Straz Center, typically set up cabaret style with tables and chairs. The intimacy of the show feeds off the intimacy of the theater.
The music illustrates the push and pull of romance: Do you run at the first sign of trouble or do you jump in with everything you have?
From the joyful opening Vows to the rocking Hundred Days, the Bengsons take you through their entanglement with authenticity and candor. What if you only had a hundred days to live your love?
The show's emotional core splits open in Three Legged Dog.
It's as if you're inside Abigail's head as she's fighting her fear, as she's facing the trauma of her childhood and trying to protect her future.
"I can't do it anymore. I'm not strong enough for this," she roars. "I never, I never said that I could. Well, I can't. I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, I can't, I'm sorry."
The song takes you along as she pushes through the other side: "I can't breathe without him. I'll be nothing ... I'll be nothing ... when he's gone."
It's the rawest kind of love story. The Bengsons transform their real-life leap of faith into an extraordinary stage performance we can all revel in.
You have fewer than a hundred days to catch it.
Contact Amy Hollyfield at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @amy_hollyfield.
IF YOU GO
Runs through March 24. Shows at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29-30 and Feb. 12-13 have been canceled. Jaeb Theater, David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N Macinnes Place, Tampa. $44 and up. (800) 955-1045. For showtimes, visit strazcenter.org.