Two one acts from Flying V: All Apologies and Me and the Devil Blues
In an ethereal forest between heaven and hell, rigid rules govern the day-to-day of the heroin loving, hard-drinking 27 Club: Janis (Katie Jeffries), Jimi (David Samuel), and Jim (Christopher Herring). All Apologies takes you to an “after party” with the most iconic, dead (at 27), musical legends this side of the Atlantic.
Kurt (Josh Adams), as in Cobain, pulls a shotgun trigger and lands in a purgatory-like camp in the woods. He finds God dressed in the requisite outdoorsy uniform (khaki shorts), Mr. Hendrix eating a bowl of hummus, and Mr. Morrison stripped of his hypnotic charisma (but not of his leather pants and unbuttoned shirt). Ms. Joplin is kind of how you’d envision her: an emotional, sexual mess with ratted hair.
Then Erika (Sarah Laughland), an Ohioan who worshipped Nirvana and fronted a promising band, shows up. Together the rockers ruminate on the sins, pain, fear, and sordid past lives that hold them hostage in an eternity “run like a nature program for kindergartners.” Even with a gently humming acoustic guitar and the ambient glow of a campfire, Kurt’s walk down memory lane is anything but peaceful—“What if hell is something you’re born with?” he asks.
It’s a great question.
Dealing with existential queries in the afterlife is no easy feat and channeling it through Kurt Cobain (mostly)—disillusion incarnate—is a fantastic concept. But Cobain, Morrison, Hendrix, and Joplin together? The stage quickly becomes too small for so many electrifying giants.
Closes October 13, 2013
4508 Walsh Street
Don’t get me wrong. Adams as Kurt is engulfed in equal parts fiery rage and complete apathy—and chimes in with wry observation, dead pan sarcasm at just the right moments. The script is sharp. The pop-culture is spot on. The genuine appreciation for Kurt’s contribution to the rock-music canon is tangible. A pitch-perfect use of each artist’s songs haunts the stage at opportune (though rather short) moments.
But I don’t fully believe in these versions of Janis, Jimi, or Jim and an over dependence on dialogue lessens the emotional resonance of Kurt trying to master in death what he could not transcend in life. For him, the song meaning was always in his melodies: I had a hard time hearing the right one for this show.
Yet, I haven’t stopped trying to hum it out myself 48 hours later. All Apologies will eventually find it. Then, they’ll just need to amp it up.
I never thought of the Blues as a counterpoint to Grunge, yet they seem upbeat, joyous even, when pinned next to guitar riffs written to sound like the pangs of anger or despair. Me and the Devil Blues is a sillier take then All Apologies on the afterlife.
As a companion piece, Devil offers a nice juxtaposition: set in the pit of Hades, the Devil (Kyle Encinas) whittles away eternity hosting an all-night (all-day, all-ever, I guess) late show— à la David Letterman—with delta blues legend Robert Johnson (David Samuel) as guest. Hell, like a dark alley speakeasy, is a perfect place in which to unleash moody melodies. At least, for Johnson.
An early American blues musician, Johnson also died at 27 after (the story goes) making a deal with the devil at the “crossroads” in which he sold his soul. Samuel plays him with a smooth affability. He’s an optimist in a pessimistic world dressed to the nines: fedora cocked just so, 3-piece suit. He’s lovin’ hell.
He’s also carried his slick womanizing-ways with him below, leaving him to tangle with the Vassar educated Antichrist (aka, Tamara, played by Katie Jeffries) in what was possibly the most torrid love affair ever. Lucifer is none too pleased.
It’s a play in one moment, an unending moment, that loops over and over in a clever take on the cyclical nature of Blues music itself, as well as Greek legend (Sisyphus forever pushing the same rock up the same hill day in and day out). The loop here is the Devil’s propensity to hit reset just as Johnson closes in on finding the right words for the final verse of the song he’s writing. Again and again, the audience is taken back to the show’s opening number. Frustrating? That’s hell for you.
Other than live-fast-die-young musical genius’ trying to find resolution in the great beyond, there’s a well-placed link between the shows through the Devil’s house band drummer, Aaron Bliden (Robert Christopher Manzo). Manzo’s double duty as an actual musical performer and the nerdy comic relief with a heart of hope is perfect. He’s flanked by his eternally damned musical brothers-in-arms: German soldiers versed in bass and guitar.
Hell is way more fun than the clean living camp-y heaven of All Apologies, and I like that it feels like a classic single-paned Far Side comic, live and in 3-D. It doesn’t hurt that a Mississippi icon’s sweet southern sound further fleshes it out.
Richer in wit, Devil is the more entertaining piece in this Unplugged double bill, but both pieces intrigue in an off-kilter way.
Unplugged double bill:
Directed by Jason Schlafstein; Written by Hunter Styles; Featuring Josh Adams, Alice Gibson, Christopher Herring, Katie Jeffries, Sarah Laughland, and David Samuel
Me and the Devil Blues
Directed by Jason Schlafstein; Written by Seamus Sullivan; Featuring Kyle Encinas, Christopher Herring, Katie Jeffries, Robert Christopher Manzo, Zachary Michael, and David Samuel
Produced by Flying V Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale
Victoria Durham . MDTheatreGuide
Andrew White . BroadwayWorld
Bev Fleischer . DCMetroTheaterArts