A solo play about the rock critic Lester Bangs constructs a portrait of his outsize personality, but doesn't answer the question posed by its title.
Lester Bangs, the ’70s rock journalist who wrote freewheeling, booze-and-pills-fueled, deeply personal record reviews and artist profiles for Rolling Stone, Creem and the Village Voice before dying in 1982 at age 33, is perhaps one of the few arts critics compelling enough to be become a lovingly portrayed character himself. Cameron Crowe wrote Bangs as a shambolic mentor figure in Almost Famous, portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank (The Exonerated), on the other hand, use Bangs’s own writings to construct this solo piece.
Jensen inhabits Bangs’s alternately frenzied and frazzled persona as he struggles through writer’s block on some unnamed review, recounting bits of his personal history (a troubled childhood with a Jehovah’s Witness mom) and playing snippets of favorite albums—Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, the subject of one of Bangs’s best-known reviews, plays a significant role. While Jensen’s embodiment of Bangs’s shaggy mien is ingratiating, Jensen and Blank’s narrative is more shaggy-dog: an overlong collection of anecdotes and digressions that, while entertaining, ultimately doesn’t offer much insight into the urge to spread one’s opinions.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company. By Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen. Directed by Blank. With Jensen. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.