The Undeniable Sound of Right Now: Review by David Cote
In Laura Eason’s play about a fading rock club, there’s talk of a demo tape that’s “seriously shitty,” except for “that first guitar riff.” The strum in question was hot enough to get the band booked by grizzled impresario Hank (Jeb Brown). I wish The Undeniable Sound of Right Now started with a kick-ass salvo. Or hooked us by the second scene. Or the fourth. Sadly, Sound is the sort of piece that gets interesting by its final stretch, where it probably should have started.
It’s 1992 and Hank’s Bar has presented breakout acts for 25 years; name checks include Billy Corgan, Nirvana and Stevie Nicks. Once a launching pad for rock gods, the joint has become a sticker-covered, beer-soaked mausoleum. Hank’s daughter, Lena (Margo Seibert), falls for a rising DJ, Nash (Daniel Abeles), whose mix-and-spin act Hank scorns. Changing fashion and gentrification loom in the background of what is basically a father-daughter breaking-away tale.
At the center of Eason’s play, there’s a binary struggle between analog and new technology not so dissimilar from the one that drove her more engaging Sex with Strangers. In Sex, the struggle was between traditional paper publishing and e-books; here it’s live bands versus sampled tracks. Although the work is set years before the Internet, iTunes and Pandora, Nash represents the digital atomization and leveling of pop-music culture that turns the live venue into a relic.
It’s a worthy topic, but Sound unfolds far too tidily and predictably, never finding shape or forward momentum. The characters are affable (and played with gusto by a strong ensemble), but the experience is like watching a warm-up band that doesn’t know when to unplug and get off.—David Cote
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (see Off Broadway). By Laura Eason. Directed by Kirsten Kelly. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
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