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The Undeniable Sound of Right Now

The author of “Sex with Strangers” offers a world premiere: an engrossing tale of a legendary Chicago rock club that has fallen on hard times after 25 years.

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Lusia Strus and Jeb Brown in a scene from Laura Eason’s “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” (Photo credit: Sandra Coudert)

Lusia Strus and Jeb Brown in a scene from Laura Eason’s “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” (Photo credit: Sandra Coudert)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

It is 1992 and Hank’s Bar in Chicago has become an institution famous for indie rock bands for the last 25 years. Everyone who is anyone has played here. Now, however, the larger bands won’t play here anymore because it is too small and the kids are going elsewhere to hear and dance to house music mixed by a DJ. Hank’s daughter Lena who grew up under this roof is introduced to Nash, the new up and coming DJ, talented, smart, ambitious, and visionary, like Hank was at his age, and Lena falls hard. Hank thinks what Nash does is “Processed. Packaged. Soul-less.” But the landlord’s son Joey is about to raise the rent, Hank hasn’t discovered a new group in years, and the new generation is knocking on the door. Is it time to pass the baton?

Like Laura Eason’s Sex with Strangers seen at The Second Stage last summer, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, her new play having its world premiere in New York in a joint production of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and Women’s Project Theater, has a pulsating urgency that pulls you into it from the moment the lights come up. Director Kirsten Kelly, another long time Chicago resident along with Eason, has obtained dynamic characterizations from her cast of six including Jeb Brown, Margo Seibert and Daniel Abeles. While the play has a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending as well as its clunky though accurate title, it brims with the authority of real life rather than theatrical artifice.

Part of the authenticity is due to John McDermott’s bar setting with its fading and peeling rock posters and hand bills, worn wooden counter, dilapidated couch, old Persian carpets, etc., as near as you can get to the real thing. Not an inch of space is left to chance. Even the light fixtures aided by Joel Moritz’s lighting design look like they have been in the bar these last 25 years. Lindsay Jones’ sound design includes period-appropriate music and songs between the 12 scenes.

Margo Seibert and Chris Kipiniak in a scene from Laura Eason’s “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” (Photo credit: Sandra Coudert)

Margo Seibert and Chris Kipiniak in a scene from Laura Eason’s “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” (Photo credit: Sandra Coudert)

On another level, the play is about the generation gap. Hank loves his daughter Lena but they are far apart on the question of dealing with the new realities of the music business as well as making changes to the venue. DJ Nash and club owner Hank represent two generations of music. Hank and his landlord have had a gentleman’s agreement on a handshake all these years, but for his son Joey this is not good enough and it is time to sell to the highest bidder. While some of this seems familiar, the play has so much vitality that this doesn’t become an issue while the play is in full swing. On the other hand, the 12 scene structure often seems like simply a device to convey new information. While this play is not as dazzlingly inventive as Eason’s Sex with Strangers, it has the unmistakable air of authenticity, not surprising as Eason was a member of the Chicago power pop band Tart during the 1990’s.

Under the direction of Kelly, the actors make more of their roles than is there on the printed page. Brown as the club owner and father has a kind of world weary charm which makes us care about him. As his loving but needing to be independent daughter Lena, Seibert is quite endearing. Abeles’ Nash has the drive and energy of one who is unstoppable but not to be trusted. As the landlord’s son now in charge of his affairs, Chris Kipiniak gives him a thuggish quality that adds danger to his Joey.  In the most underwritten of the roles, Lusia Strus suggests a back story to Bette that is not in the play. Brian Miskell makes his presence felt as Hank’s sweet, unassuming bookkeeper, booker and man-of-all-work, who has an unrequited love for Lena.

As a follow up to Sex with Strangers, Laura Eason’s The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is not as startling and ingenious. However, piloted by Kirsten Kelly, it offers a dynamic vibe that captures the scene and makes this an engrossing and compelling story of the world of rock clubs viewed from the inside.

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now (through May 2, 2015)

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater & Women’s Project Theater

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South, in Manhattan

For tickets, call OvationTix at 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.rattlestick.org

Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission

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Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (516 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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