Directed by Kirsten Kelly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
“Time it was /And what a time it was, it was/A time of innocence/A time of confidences/Long ago it must be/I have a photograph/Preserve your memories/They’re all that’s left you.” “Bookends” by Simon & Garfunkel
The insidious sounds of “right now” that threaten to relegate the present to the past creep eerily into Hank’s Bar in Chicago in 1992. Hank (played with a droll, brooding intensity by Jeb Brown) loves his gritty rock club that has launched a good number of performance careers. He loves his daughter Lena (played with a focused intensity by Margo Seibert) even more. And he still has a deep love for his ex-wife Bette (played with a powerful charm by Lusia Strus) who continues to support Hank and Lena with tough doses of advice and admiration. The final member of this intentional family is Toby (played with a wistful, wry, and willing demeanor by Brian Miskell). Toby is bookkeeper, booker, and unrequited lover of Lena.
As with all family systems, it only takes one “intruder” or one family member’s decision to change to wreak havoc on the delicate balance of domesticity. That intruder is DJ Nash (played with a diabolical charm by Daniel Abeles) whom Lena, Toby, and Bette meet at one of Nash’s shows. Nash wants Hank to add spinning to his roster of regulars and it is the conflicts between Nash and Hank and Nash and Lena that drive the engaging plot in “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” currently running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Add to all this the published article that frames Hank and his bar more as nostalgia than the “next thing” and the dynamic plot of Laura Eason’s play explodes.
Hank does not wish to be a memory in a photograph. He believes that rock has a place in the musical world of the late twentieth century and he plans to move forward rather than being bought out as Nash suggests:
NASH: Yeah. Sure. But you’ve had a great run of it and people are getting interested in other kinds of clubs, other kinds of music. I bet someone would buy you out–
HANK: Why would I do that?
NASH: I don’t know. Just… the next thing’s coming.
HANK: So, what? I’m supposed to — what? Make some room? Step aside?
With no plans to step aside, Hank initially refuses to book any DJs. All that changes when the undeniable “sound” of a rent increase forces Hank to give it a try. The gig proves successful and Hank decides to buy the adjacent space and expand his musical offerings to include popular DJs. This plan gets derailed by the landlord’s son Joey (played with a lush despicable demeanor by Chris Kipiniak) who plans to sell the property including the bar to a higher bidder. Hank must vacate the bar. Under Kirsten Kelly’s taut direction, the ensemble cast delivers authentic performances and brings Hank’s story into a transcendent collision with all that threatens to undo the fabric of stability and success.
Playwright Laura Eason’s women are survivors first and foremost and tough and tenacious as a result. Margo Seibert (Lena) and Lusia Strus (Bette) tackle their characters with a deep and rich understanding and the subplots their conflicts drive support the important themes of playwright Laura Eason’s equally important work. John McDermott’s set design and Joel Moritz’s lighting design are both spot on and capture the spirit and sense of Hank’s bar.
“The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” is about far more than the story about Hank’s resignation to the reality of the shift in musical tastes, the tenuous bonds of loyalty, and the strain gentrification places on long-established communities. The title suggests the deeper connections and the enduring questions the play offers. “Right now” encompasses not only the historical context; the phrase embraces all present contexts – the sounds of being in the moment and in the present. The well-crafted play is a brilliant trope for all that which would relegate the wonder of the present to a well-worn scrapbook.