Friday, April 3, 2015

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Laura Eason (Sex with Strangers) writes lively and vibrant characters and I always want to spend more time with them. She has assembled an array of characters with quirks and passions in The Undeniable Sound Of Right Now where she's looking at fathers and daughters, the past and the future, and how all this plays out against the backdrop of the changing world of music.

It's 1992 and Hank (Jeb Brown) has been running his famed grimy Chicago bar for 25 years.  He has launched a number of bands from obscurity to fame from there. Lena (Margo Seibert), his daughter, has grown up upstairs from this center of rock history and has become his right hand man. His long-time girlfriend Bette (Luisa Strus) has finally moved out of the apartment above the bar but she's drawn back to the bar every night anyway. Toby (Brian Miskell) helps Hank and is dedicated to keeping the bar going and being part of its history even if he's half in love with Lena. When Lena starts to date Nash (Daniel Abeles), a DJ who's rising in the house scene, there's nothing but dissonant feedback from Hank who sees Nash as a symbol of what's wrong with where music is going.

At times USORN is too convenient and sitcom-esque and it's not hard to see where things are going. But even so I can't say I minded too much.  Eason creates such affection for her characters and I found that rubbing off on me especially with a cast that brings out such specificity. Lena is lovingly portrayed by Seibert who makes her somehow hard and soft, smart and dumb, young and old, all at the same time.  And like Seibert's Adrian in Rocky you kind of want to be her best friend or give her a kiss (and covet her shoes--seriously she always gets the cutest footwear).  Strus and Miskell in their performances give lovely shading and outside perspective to this co-dependent father/daughter relationship.  Strus in particular reveals a lot about the relationship dynamics at play through her performance alone.  Bette practically raised Lena but she's trying to make a permanent life for herself elsewhere.  You can feel her gently pulling on Hank to do the same.  But this sense of holding onto the past and struggling to move on towards the future has trapped Hank and Lena in the bar.  Sadly the circumstances rather than the characters force changes.  So the drama ends up a little short-circuited by outside forces moving the plot rather than anyone's decisions. 

The set (by John McDermott) suggested a sticky floored old CBGB-like space with colorful photocopied flyers and band stickers.  But like the play it felt like it wore a surface of authenticity but scratch a little beneath it and it was a Hollywood backlot. The play is uneven and not as deep as it needs to be to really deliver the emotional payoff.  But even so with solid laughs, some nice character work, and me wondering about my own journey from the 90's until now, I found myself happy to have spent 90 minutes with Eason's characters.  

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