Montagues and Capulets. Vampires and werewolves. Rock musicians and DJs? The conflict between the latter is the proxy war at the center of Laura Eason’s The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, currently running at Keegan Theatre. And while some delightful bits of design and acting strike the right chord, ultimately, they’re undermined by a script that’s mostly flat and chock-full of predictable, clichéd notes.
Venture down Church Street in Dupont and you’ll be transported to early-1990s Chicago. Specifically, you’ll be pulling up a stool in a bar that has played host to countless rock ‘n’ roll legends during its 25 years of hardscrabble existence. But all of that’s in jeopardy now that raves are starting to take over the scene. And so begins the classic tug-of-war between the old and the new.
The owner of said bar is Hank (played with both bluster and petulance by Chris Stezin), who really doesn’t like it when you call him a legend. He lives above the bar along with his daughter, Lena (Jessie Power), and they are often joined by his ex, Bette (the delightful Susan Marie Rhea), and aw-shucks employee, Toby (Kevin Hasser). They’re a close, if unconventional, family struggling to keep the bar in business as their neighborhood gentrifies around them and their jerk of a landlord, Joey (Josh Sticklin), threatens to raise their rent. But their world really gets rocked when Lena begins dating Nash (Ryan Sellers), an up-and-coming DJ, and the antithesis of everything Hank stands for.
Led by director Brandon McCoy, each member of the cast puts in top-notch performances (the criminally underused Rhea, in particular—she steals just about every scene she’s in). Unfortunately, they’re let down by the writing, which at best is often thin and at worst is contradictory in a confusing way. Hank, for example, goes on and on at length about how much he hates nostalgia—except that every other word he says is a reminiscence about a past he’s fighting so hard to hang on to. Had this he been called out on this apparent incongruity by any other character at any point it could have made for some interesting commentary, but everyone merely accepts it as fact and goes along with it.
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now
closes May 27, 2018
Details and tickets
The young lovers don’t fare much better. Lena is the person whose affection literally every man in the play is fighting over, yet she doesn’t get much of a personality of her own. And we are told late in the play that Nash is smart and exceptionally talented… but we’ll just have to take everyone’s word for it, since we don’t get to see it for ourselves. Toby and Joey—as the I’m-too-nice-for-women-to-notice-me guy and the cartoonish sexual harasser, respectively—feel more like stock characters than real people. Other than Bette, the most interesting people on stage may have been the crew—who handle the scene changes in a genuinely fantastic and delightful way.
Mad props, however, go to Matthew J. Keenan for his incredibly detailed and realistic dive bar set—you could practically feel the characters’ shoes sticking to the floor from the audience. Alison Samantha Johnson’s costumes were well done, if almost too subtle, and Katie McCreary’s lighting helped to enhance the seedy feel of the bar and dazzled when needed. The only disappointment with Veronica J. Lancaster’s sound design is that there should have been more of it—for a show with music so central to the plot, it’s a shame that it was mostly only played during scene changes.
Overall, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is produced with the high level of professionalism and care that audiences have come to expect from Keegan Theatre—this reviewer just wishes it had been applied to a more innovative and original script.
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now by Laura Eason. Directed by Brandon McCoy. Cast: Kevin Hasser, Jessie Power, Susan Marie Rhea, Ryan Sellers, Chris Stezin, and Josh Sticklin. Assistant director: Nikki Hoffpauir. Set design: Matthew J. Keenan. Lighting design: Katie McCreary. Costume design: Allison Samantha Johnson. Sound design: Veronic J. Lancaster. Properties and set dressing design: Cindy Landrum Jacobs. Stage manager: Juliana Parks. Produced by Keegan Theatre. Reviewed by John Bavoso.