Strum und Drang
Most musicals don’t require earplugs, but then they aren’t usually held at legendary punk-rock clubs with blasting sound systems. And most musicals don’t rock like Prey for Rock & Roll (CBGB), the debut vehicle of Cheri Lovedog, the ex-L.A. punk rocker turned playwright.
Art mirrors life, as the bitter, bitchy leader, Jackie (played by Lovedog), guides her three chick Clam Dandy bandmates through their personal wannabe-rock-star trials. Though you wonder why the hard-rock life has to be so full of hard knocks, Lovedog’s plot and snappy dialogue assure that Prey for Rock & Roll is more than just a Behind the Music for the stage. Director Robin Whitehouse perfectly paces Prey, squeezing the script’s suspense for maximum impact, droppings hints of hell to come one by one. Realistic, witty dialogue serves as a solid base for the sometimes shaky acting and odd casting choices: Too perky to be the cranky, pissed-off alcoholic bassist, Jackie Kamm as Tracy is more Jane Wiedlin than Joan Jett, and her boyfriend Daniel (Eric Wippo) isn’t creepy or sleazy enough. Strong performances, though, come from c.c. seymour as Sally, the sweet-faced little drummer girl, and Lou Sumrall as Animal, the protective thug with a heart of gold.
The two real-life rock stars turned actresses, Lovedog and Jan Tilley (of Hedwig and the Angry Inch), inhabit their roles with ease, but only because they know them so well. Any awkward moments disappear when they play the dozen Lovedog-penned straight-ahead punk songs. Prey manages to escape the corny confines of musical theater—nobody breaks into song midsentence—by setting the actors in rehearsals or gigs. The show has all the makings of a cult hit, perhaps with different local grrrl legends like the Lunachicks’ Theo taking over the lead—giving this rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale an everlasting spot in New Yorkers’ cold, cold hearts. —Tricia Romano
American ditziness tries its hand at abstract expressionism in Toni Schlesinger’s The Long, Slow Death of Lila Remy (Here). Solo performer Schlesinger stands in a polyester suit and mock-silk-flower headband and asserts: “I want you to know I didn’t do it,” scaring the audience into a 50-minute play that turns out to be as deliberately tacky and amateur and dry as it introduced itself.
Kitty is an aging, angel-white-haired woman with nothing to her life but beauty salons and a dead woman’s money and friends. The deceased is “America’s favorite singer,” Lila Remy, whom Kitty, when she was Anonymous (“That was my name back then”), happened upon one day, washed up on a San Simeon beach with an arrow through her heart. Pacing preciously in stiletto heels, Kitty pulls silly props from a pile of black boxes and pokes through a series of watercolor documents to illustrate her elaborate story. She crisscrosses eagerly through her younger years, from when she left her hand-cream salesman boyfriend behind in Wisconsin in pursuit of California’s land of “hope and promise”—where the air is made of gold and the streets full of fancy salons—to the now: living in a Manhattan apartment with 26 of the “important” people she picked up along the way to obtaining the life and funds of her fast-acquired idol.
There’s more plot than point to this play—essentially the story of a life that is, as one character puts it, “a Candyland in ruins.” We learn nothing we don’t already know about simple lives brought to prominence through the fame of another. But as Kitty unleashes tales of idle time and adultery blindfolded by naïveté, she opens the prettily shaped boxes of a comedic mystery that is funny and cute and clever and sustained by a real and raw performance by Schlesinger and an overall ridiculous sense of humor. —Emma Pearse
A 200-Year-Old Premiere
LONDON—Many British playwrights have had long waits before reaching the West End. But few have cooled their heels as long as Fanny Burney, whose comedy A Busy Day was written in 1800 but has only just been unveiled on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Born in 1752, Burney published her first novel, Evelina, anonymously in 1778. She fessed up to it shortly thereafter, however, gaining such notoriety that she became a Dr. Johnson pal as well as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Charlotte. During the Napoleonic Wars she fled to France with husband Alexandre d’Arblay. There she further enhanced her name by undergoing a mastectomy in 1811 with nothing more anesthetizing than a wine-and-laudanum cocktail.
Burney was so well-connected that Richard Brinsley Sheridan was grabbing her fashionable lapels at gatherings in hopes of snaring a play. Her dramatic works, which also include The Witlings, weren’t introduced at the Drury Lane, though, because her tyrannical socialite father, Dr. Charles Burney, was damned if she was going to make fun of family friends and associates in such a public forum.
He was wise to worry. Burney, like Jane Austen, who named her as an influence, thought society a silly arena, especially when the topic was marrying well. In A Busy Day—which includes the declaration that “merit is limited to no spot and confined to no class”—Eliza Watts and Mr. Cleveland are in love. Their path to happiness is blocked during the course of one rather busy day when Cleveland’s uncle Marmaduke Tylney arranges an alliance between his nephew and rich, twittery Miss Percival. All, of course, comes right.
Though not great—and trivialized in Jonathan Church’s campy production—A Busy Day is like Thornton Wilder’s merry Matchmaker: amusing about wealthy fools, scheming climbers, and thwarted lovers. Belated greetings to it. —David Finkle