I’ll Get You Back Again uses a band’s reunion as the basis for a combined comedy, drama, memory play, and meditation on the meaning of life. While the Round House Theatre world premiere production has some jammin’ moments, the elements never fully gel in a Sarah Gancher’s well-meaning but ultimately underwhelming play.
It is a sad truth of life that everyone eventually grows old, even 60’s era rock bands. Before their breakup long ago, “The Pisces” was a modestly successful group featuring Carl on lead guitar, Melvin on drums, Coyote Dan on vocals, and the late Jimmy on bass. They reunite at the California home of Melvin, now a “hipper than thou” new age college professor.
The ostensible reason is to play one more concert, this time with Jimmy’s 37-year-old daughter Chloe (Renata Friedman) taking a break from her efforts to launch a standup comedy career to fill in on bass. The real motive is an attempt by Melvin (Michael Anthony Williams) to rescue burnout Carl (David Patrick Kelly) from the throes of depression and illness, real or imagined. Nothing seems to motivate Carl except the potential of finishing his rock opera about The Three Stooges, which he finds a profound source of violent chaos and meaningful anarchy.
The group has a full load of memories, regrets, and recriminations. Back in the day, when his former groupie and then lady Tulip (Helen Hedman) was pregnant with Chloe, Coyote Dan (Dan Manning) took the band’s name and organized a post-breakup tour of “The New Pisces” that helped lead to the drug overdose of Jimmy back
Playwright Sarah Gancher finds abundant comedy from the refusal of these AARP eligibles to go gently into senior status, clinging to their memories of an era of Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead while adapting to the computer age. In a nostalgic moment one character opines that everything was better back in the old days except for today’s drugs. Dan Manning especially has a blast playing the larger than life Coyote Dan, who clings to the glory of his musical career as a way of supporting his serial pursuit of women.
I’ll Get You Back Again
closes October 29, 2017
Details and tickets
The first act is mostly driven by the light humor of the characters reuniting and some brief flashbacks of their musical career, including too brief appearances by Young Melvin (Jonathan Livas, a wiz on the skins), Young Dan (Harrison Smith), and of course, Jimmy (Brian Reisman), whose youthful specter looms over much of story. This approach leaves too much of Chloe’s character development and serious plot turns to a lengthy second act.
Gancher’s efforts to wring deeper meaning from the story are admirable, but the serious elements seem to lack a solid foundation. It’s hard to imagine these characters as having been close in the past, and the failure to make more than fleeting use of their younger avatars seems a missed opportunity. The music plays a smaller role than one might expect and none of the sequences are particularly meaningful to the story.
It is obvious much love went into this production. Broadway director Rachel Chavkin orchestrates excellent use of artistic elements, including Jared Mezzocchi’s pseudo-psychedelic projections and a beautifully designed turntable set by Carolyn Mraz.
Yet the story mostly depends upon two characters, Chloe and Carl, and their respective personal struggles. Neither are fully drawn enough to involve the audience sufficiently, so sweet final messages have less than optimal impact when finally arriving.
Gancher has an obvious affection for these characters and a personal vision that springs from her own biography. The ambition and sweep of Round House Theatre’s I’ll Get You Back are admirable, but this group is not yet ready for a major tour.
I’ll Get You Back Again by Sarah Gancher. Directed by Rachel Chavkin. Featuring Renata Friedman, Helen Hedman, David Patrick Kelly, Johnathan Livas, Dan Manning, Brian Reisman, Harrison Smith, and Michael Anthony Williams. Scenic Designer: Carolyn Mraz. Lighting Designer: Nancy Schertler. Costume Designer: Brenda Abbandandolo. Composer/Sound Designer: Rick Sims. Projection Designer: Jared Mezzocchi. Props Master: Timothy Jones. Movement Consultant: Mark Aster. Dramaturg: Gabriel Hoyt. Assistant Director: Susannah Eig. Resident Stage Manager: Che Wernsman. New York Casting: Geoff Josselson. Presented by Round House Theatre. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.