THE BASICS: THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW, a play by Laura Eason directed by David Oliver, opened on April 26 and runs to May 19, Thursdays to Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2 at Road Less Traveled Theater, 456 Main Street. Full-service bar. (629-3069). www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org Runtime: Under two hours with one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Adapted from RLTP’s website: Since 1967, Hank’s bar has been home to the biggest up-and-coming bands from The Clash to Nirvana in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago. But now it’s 1992, and gentrification has hit Hank with higher rents and new fads in fashion and music. If Hank is going to save his bar, he may have to let his daughter turn it in to a Rave nightclub where music is spun by Deejays instead of being played by “real” musicians. Hank would rather die, but is he willing to let his life’s work die, too?
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Right off, let’s show some love for one of the best sets on any stage this season, designed by Dyan Burlingame and perfectly lit by John Rickus. It’s not the only meticulously crafted bar set we’ve seen recently. A few years back there was a stunner in the “Dixie Longate/Mechanical Bull” show at the Smith; Chris Cavanagh’s Irish pub last season for ONCE at MusicalFare was an actual bar where the audience could imbibe, and this season Paul Bostaph’s Buffalo Bills themed bar for ONCE IN MY LIFETIME was outstanding. But as good as those were, I swear I could smell the stale beer and cigarettes at Road Less Traveled. I think it was the doors, paneled leading to the living quarters over Hank’s bar, a sliding industrial fire door leading to the warehouse where the raves would occur, but mostly the plain, crappy, doors painted black with cheap brass coated handles that are the staple of every dive bar. And the sun streaming down through a grimy skylight was just one of a thousand details. [Note: after each performance, audience members are invited to support the ECMC HIV/AIDS Immunodeficiency Services and then to take a selfie, with or without actors, your choice, on stage at the bar. Last year, with contributions from many theaters, this Artie Award initiative gave $40,000.]
Now let’s talk about the cast. Yes! To be an all-category voting member of the above-mentioned Artie Awards Committee, I attend every Artie-eligible production, and, to be honest, sometimes I go to some theaters with trepidation. But knowing whom I was going to see on stage at RLTP filled me with anticipation. What a night. Let’s start with one of our favorite actors, Peter Palmisano, as “Hank,” owner of the bar and the father of “Lena” his progressive daughter. Palmisano is one of those actors who just melts into his roles, and here he’s completely believable in his well-worn rock’n’roll tee shirts and jeans (costumes by Maura Price) as a combination of seen-it-all resignation and edgy, protective wariness. Is he more worried about the future of music, or his bar, or his daughter? It’s all three.
Like Palmisano, Diane DiBernardo as “Bette,” who is Hank’s companion, just seemed so “real” without any “actorly” traits getting in the way of completely believing her character. A master of the craft, she too melts into her roles, and you can completely relax when she’s on stage.
I don’t usually review student productions, but after recently writing about Niagara University’s THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA it was a very pleasant surprise to see graduating senior Christine Turturro again, this time in a professional production, but again in a high energy, somewhat “contrarian” role. In ALBA she was the pill-popping, hard-drinking, full-of-attitude “Marty.” Here, as “Lena,” she’s butting heads with her old-school father “Hank.” Remember that name, Turturro.
And the male equal of Turturro in terms of energy and believability was Johnny Barden as “Nash,” the DeeJay with big dreams. Barden has not been on my radar, but he will be now.
Playing against “Lena” were Jeffrey Coyle as the family friend, gopher, and boyfriend wannabe “Toby.”
Nick Stevens plays “Joey,” the greedy, slimy, landlord’s son with no respect for the handshake/gentleman’s agreement of his father’s (Hank’s) generation. “Joey” doesn’t have a lot of respect for women, either. I like Stevens in any role, but I like him better in the “thoughtful but flawed” roles he’s played at Jewish Repertory Theatre’s VISITING MR. GREEN or in 4,000 MILES or in MusicalFare’s SPRING AWAKENING. In a few years he could take on the roles currently played by Road Less Traveled ensemble member Dave Hayes, who also plays “gifted but troubled” so well. My wife on the other hand found Stevens’ portrayal of this sleazy 90s real estate mogul on the rise to be quite suitable for this production.
Laura Eason writes for grown-ups. She is probably best known to most as one of the writers on the Netflix series “House of Cards.” For theater goers, it might be SEX WITH STRANGERS (one of her 20 plays) which deals with both generational mis-understanding and slowly discovering what you want. And she’s also the writer of a 2018 movie called “Here and Now” (not to be confused with a television series of the same name). The movie has a mid-life singer faced with a reality not of her own choosing, a movie which one of the stars, Sarah Jessica Parker, told Stephen Colbert is “about reckoning, love, mistakes and regret, and sort of being a ghost in your own life.” Yup. That’s vintage Laura Eason material, and she makes the most of it in THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW.
Photo credits: Gina Gandolfo
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of Johsomeone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!