No one rocks harder in rock and roll theater than the hangers-on. Rocks, that is, the cate-gory of knowingness, like a playwright. Gets corrosive in the face of the photogenic twits with the guitars and the pretensions. In Lay Me Down, a musical pseudonymously based on the lives and poor record sales of Richard and Linda Thompson, the rockers are a producer who smokes cigarettes through a holder, a female industry weasel who got where she is with a blow job, and a scenester turned hippie guru. In I Wanna Be Adored, openly billed as “A Black Comedy About Joy Division,” everyone rocks more than Ian Curtis, including a stripper in a wheelchair and an NME scribe who airily proclaims, “Clinging to your misery for any reason other than to sell a lot of records is daft.” Daft punk: everybody’s favorite kind.
I Wanna Be Adored overstuffs the cynicism, though, binges on it, and that’s love in my book. After Curtis (John Del Signore, getting much pop presence out of his jaw) hangs himself on the verge of Joy Division’s U.S. tour, a glowering angel (Jonathan Marc Sherman) is sent to redeem him. Why? To keep him from polluting hell: “People are supposed to suffer, but they’re not supposed to like it.” The angel tries a 12-step intervention: He brings Curtis to a cabaret in purgatory where the stripper and her cohort sing a medley of “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Admit you’re just another cheap thrill, you Baudelaire wannabe!
Marc Spitz prefers outburts to scenes, indulges sleazy clichés from the Led Zep handbook. His word of choice is cunt, as in “You vain rock star cunt” and “I am the fucking poet of death and despair, you cunt.” But that’s just his way of saying he cares about language (the angel and Curtis debate diction like copy editors). Same as writing a play about Ian Curtis’s immoral soul, named for a Stone Roses song, says that goth made him the cultivated New Yorker he is today. Act 2 gets a little messy, and Spitz flubs the emotional payoff. But the acting is vicious crisp, and no one cares about dramatic arc when the angel has a comeback like, “No, Andy Gibb is the poet of death and despair. You’re just a schnook. Be a schnook.” Behind the Music partially reassembled as The Brothers Karamazov: Who knew it could be done?
Spitz initially planned to disguise Curtis as Winston Frame, lead singer of the Divining Rodz; I’m glad he risked the lawsuit, because the actual names, and actual music, provide a weight for the farce to pull against. The lack of such dooms Lay Me Down, a musical that chronicles the commercial struggles of the Thompsons without ever evoking the power of their music. Deep Sea Adventure—the rock trio fronted by Stephen Thirolle, who plays “David Trumbull” (Thompson) and wrote the songs—are lost trying to re-create Richard’s keening crunch. Teresa Castracane sounds most like Linda singing a Weetabix jingle.
More to the point, without any of his wit or her poignancy, the lead characters seem undeserving of a demo session, let alone a 23-year epic saga. Director Allison Zell gives an expansive staging to an extremely flat script, and the three actors who get to play wicked Svengalis have plenty of fun. But the savvy of Lay Me Down‘s take on rock can be summed up with a sample: “Everyone remembers the imitators. It’s the inventors they forget.” Shake, rattle & roll the example cited: Bill Haley. I guess Joe Turner really has come and gone.