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Stereophonic

The Seventies music scene and rock culture in a nutshell.

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The cast of David Adjmi’s “Stereophonic” at the Golden Theatre (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left”] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]

David Adjmi’s Stereophonic at the Golden Theatre, a transfer under the auspices of Playwrights Horizons, is a minutely detailed, almost minute-by-minute recreation of a recording session by a rock band, purportedly based on Fleetwood Mac’s creation of its epic album Rumours in 1976.  (Adjmi has denied that this was his inspiration, claiming that the show has an amalgam of sources.)

This version of the story takes place over the course of a year, 1976-1977, moving from a recording studio in Sausalito, California to a more advanced one in Los Angeles when their backing comes through.  (The realistic, two-tiered set by David Zinn, unchanged from Act One to Act Two, serves as both sites. It’s Zinn’s artistry that makes the audience see the same space in two different ways.)

In the opening minutes of Stereophonic Adjmi’s overlapping dialogue sets the slice-of-life tone that defines his technique.  Sound engineer Grover (Eli Gelb) and his assistant Charlie (Andrew R. Butler) are fussing around setting sound levels as the American lead singer Diana (Sarah Pidgeon) complains about the broken coffee machine to the British drummer Simon (Chris Stack), nonsensical banter that sets the faux casual, but revealing, style of the play.

Andrew R. Butler and Eli Gelb in a scene from David Adjmi’s “Stereophonic” at the Golden Theatre (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Their conversation hints at problems with others in the group, most particularly the British bass player Reg (Will Brill, touching in his representation of his character’s personal battles) whose issues with drugs and alcohol threaten his marriage to Holly (Juliana Canfield, solid).

Relationships are slowly revealed.  The American lead vocalist and band leader Peter (Tom Pecinka) is coupled with Diana.  Their initial bantering about domestic matters morphs later in the play to reveal deeper chinks in this domesticity.  Professional rivalries overwhelm these two and the group in general, particularly when Diana’s solo song emerges as a hit, giving her the power to demand artistic input into the group’s album lineup when it is finally, torturously finished after months of loving, infighting, drug use and upheaval in their personal lives.

It doesn’t help that they all live in the same house, magnifying all their little egotistic needs into major stumbling blocks.

Sarah Pidgeon, Juliana Canfield and Tom Peckinka in a scene from David Adjmi’s “Stereophonic” at the Golden Theatre (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Watching Pecinka as the self-appointed head of the band, Peter, obsessively overlording the group is frightening in many ways, particularly his blindness to the power of the women in the group.  Although at the forefront of the culture of his time, his treatment of Diana and Holly, and for that matter, all the other artists, is from a more ancient history.  The others stand up to him with talent, strength and wit.

The fictitious band is so fascinating due to the incredible talent of all the members of this ensemble, fine singers, musicians and splendid actors.  They embody these characters as complex, vibrant and meaningful humans, helped by Adjmi’s powers of observation and his artistic colleagues, particularly the period perfect costumes by Enver Chakartash and the hair and wigs of Robert Pickens and Katie Gell.

Gelb and Butler, in particular, make a terrifically funny pair providing many leavening moments amidst the bickering.  They are the play’s Greek Chorus, their ongoing comments and observations deceptively humorous.  Their characters, even as they fantasize about unattainably fantastical ladies, become more and more adroit at their jobs, mastering their engineering technique and their deep understanding of the gang of adolescents in adult clothing whose artistic output they control.

Tom Peckinka and Sarah Pidgeon in a scene from David Adjmi’s “Stereophonic” at the Golden Theatre (Photo credit: Julieta Cervantes)

Adjmi’s ear-on-the-wall intimacy with the Seventies’ Rock & Roll scene is mind-boggling.  He captures an era within the walls of this claustrophobic set. The original music and songs are by Will Butler, a member for the band Arcade Fire until 2022.

Directed by Daniel Aukin with infinite attention to detail, Stereophonic takes some patience to absorb, but the end result is a worthwhile evening of theater.

Stereophonic (through August 18, 2024)

Playwrights Horizons Production

Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.stereophonicplay.com

Running time: three hours and 5 minutes including one intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (561 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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