by Jona Tarlin · April 3, 2015
The right now of the Undeniable Sound of Right Now, playing at the Rattlestick Theater right now until May 2nd, is 1992. One year after Nirvana’s Nevermind killed hair metal and introduced Grunge to the world. 1992 is the year Pavement released their debut Slanted and Enchanted. Sonic Youth dropped their classic Dirty. R.E.M put out Automatic for the People. It’s also the year of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1, Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, and in the perhaps the best summation of the musical cross-breeding of the time, the Beastie Boy’s Check Your Head. A hip-hop record drawing whatever it needed from rock, jazz, and electronic music to create something greater than it’s parts.
The playwright, Laura Eason, uses the classic melodrama conceits of an evil landlord raising the rent on a beloved bar (think CBGB’s), and a father disapproving of his daughter’s new beau (he’s a DJ) to tell a story of clashing cultures. Rock and roll meets hip-hop and electronic music head on and doesn’t like what it hears. Unfortunately the play fails to grow much beyond simply having representatives of those factions butt heads. Minds are not changed, characters are not won over, instead the riffs and records stay the same throughout.
The set, by John McDermott does a great job making the bar beloved. The walls are sufficiently grimy, the floor sticky, and every surface covered with aged fliers from past shows. It perfectly evokes what much of Williamsburg craves: the real thing. Without such a solid set to back them up the characters many declarations of how amazing the bar is and how important its history is would fall flat.
The problem is that everyone’s simply running around in circles. Lena (Margo Seibert) has just moved back to the apartment in the back of her father’s bar. Hank’s Bar used to be the launching pad for rock n’ roll icons but has settled into being a place everyone respects that’s far too tiny for big names to play at. Hank (Jeb Brown) is content to play the demos he’s sent and book the bands he likes without the burden of attempting much more.
The younger generation has big dreams and not much room for Hank, even though they love him. Lena wants to broaden the acts they book, hoping to secure a night for the DJ boyfriend who’s perfect for her. He used to play guitar, and incorporates all different genres into his sets.
She is paralleled in the landlord’s son, Joey (Chris Kipiniak). Their fathers always had a handshake agreement on rent and respect not to raise it more then could be paid. Joey wants to turn the building around, condos maybe, and asks for twenty percent more each month to prevent that happening.
If you guessed they throw a one night only rave to raise enough money to cover the rent you wouldn’t be too far off.
If this play were an album and this a review for Pitchfork I would give it a 6.5. It had some really wonderful moments, with Jeb Brown and Margo Seibert as standouts within an all around stellar cast. Their moments together are wonderful especially Hank’s heartbreaking monologue about being a hesitant father, scared he would be too selfish to care for her until he sees and instantly falls in love. It was a gripping, heartbreaking scene and you could feel the electricity of the audience collectively rapt. But that monologue didn’t change anybody’s mind. Lena knew her father loved her long before he tells her so explicitly. So while it deepened our understanding of their relationship it did nothing to move the story forward. Eason relies too heavily on outside forces to move the plot along to the detriment of audience investment in the story. What few choices the characters make do little to change anything as the play works towards its forgone conclusion.
The play is a DJ set in rock n’ roll clothing: everything clicking away in perfect rhythm but lacking groove.