4 out of 4 stars
Get ready to rock with The Undeniable Sound of Right Now by Laura Eason now playing at the Raven Theatre. To conclude the 36th season, this Chicago premiere delves into a poignant illustration of those who can change with the times and those who get left behind.
Set in Chicago, 1992 – the city and culture are changing, but grungy Hank’s Bar is not. The “soulless” noise of electronic music is on the rise and Hank, the proprietor of the legendary rock club battles with the threat of “the next big thing” as it threatens to destroy his legacy and fracture his family.
The set design was really well constructed with a typical four entrance stage and angled enough to give dimension to the story. Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design) with Eileen Rozycki (scenic artist) do a great job at capturing the spirit of local dive bars very realistically. The taped over busted vinyl chairs, the aged flyers hanging on the walls and genuine looking grime – as visual artist I really enjoy when you can tell a scenic design and artisan strive authenticity. The one tap, beat up amps and ash trays were nice touches as well to the era. The fairy lights and lack of aesthetic appeal shows the history upon its walls of spray painted agitations.
The homegrown and organic raw music scene is being challenged by the DuChamp’s of music – the dreaded DJ. The production touches on the shift in accessibility to music that bridged musician with listener. Talent is thrown into question and if mixing various music into one larger piece is a skill or a murder. Battling nostalgia and corporate yuppies, the begrudged club/rock legend Hank struggles against this new age of music, while his daughter Lena teeters on the scales between this upbeat genre and classic diehard rock. Jeff Mills (Hank) wonderfully captures his character’s disdain for aging and coping with change. Mills is vividly emotive and plays his character with such astounding realism, additionally he is a very talented guitar player! The sound design by Lindsay Jones was excellent with great grunge tunes and fade in/outs were subtle with the light transitions. Additionally, having a live guitar in several sequences was managed well and without hiccup to the flow of the performance.
The women in this play is where the story centers on I believe. It’s as much about Hank and his bar as it is about the women in his life. Lindsay Stock (Lena) has a strong conviction with conveying her character finding the balance between the new and the old. A growing pain for both father and daughter – the legacy filled with family drama coming to a boiling point. Mills and Stock playing opposite each other is explosive! Dana Black plays Hank’s ex-wife, but still love interest Bette who helped raise Lena and acts as a voice of reason for both father and daughter. The encouraging independent woman stands as a representation for Lena – in a relationship, as well as post relationship. The play is filled with romantic drama and with a hard focus on being a young adult woman in the early 90’s, which seems almost autobiographical or homage like to the playwright’s own voice during this time period.
The playwright Laura Eason is a Brooklyn-based screenwriter and playwright. She is best known for four seasons as a writer/producer on the Netflix drama House of Cards (WGA nomination for outstanding writing in a drama series and three Primetime Emmy Award nominations. Eason, a Chicagoan, taps into the changing culture of the Windy City in a particularly interesting time. This work seems to stem from New York’s CBGB’s with Midwest homage. Chicago has it’s fair share of institutions over the years including the Fireside Bowl, Double Door, and the Empty Bottle. Energetic crowds gathering to tap into their own voice and coming into their own through the magic of live music. As someone involved in the music scene for the past 12 years, I keenly feel for this performance. Hank’s declaration of the music scene being raw and “some kind of magic” is insanely true. Inspiring young people this sense of community is powerful. “The lyric that feels like it’s telling the story of your life” in that one moment is something that is difficult to convey. This production encompasses that feeling, that empathetic swan song in a killer riff.
THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW is playing now through June 16, 2019 on Raven’s 99-seat East Stage, 6157 N. Clark St. (at Granville) in Chicago. Tickets are available at www.raventheatre.com or by calling (773) 338-2177.
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!