As its title suggests, Marc Spitz’s one-act satire is a supremely self-aware act of pop culture subversion. Taking place entirely on the set of a Behind the Music-like television show, this intelligent rock-world send-up avoids the cliché of the egotistical, brain-dead musician and targets instead the egotistical, brain-dead journalists who cover them. Or rather, pseudo-journalists. Pete (Brian Reilly) is a young, idealistic rock critic who’s been invited to contribute a talking head segment to a show cataloging rock history’s most embarrassing (“rockatrocious”) moments. Guests are supposed to hold forth on subjects like Elvis’s underwear fetish or the color of Michael Jackson’s penis, but scrupulous Pete resists being dragged into the muck. This fatally provokes the ire of the Mephistophelian director (a brilliantly ambiguous James Eason).
Rock geeks will no doubt tell you that the play derives its name from the Talking Heads’ seminal 1982 release, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads. Spitz seems to have structured his plot around some of that album’s more evocatively titled tracks—starting with “New Feeling,” moving on to “Artists Only,” and culminating with “Psycho Killer.” Spitz boasts rock cred aplenty (he’s a writer at Spin), and his almost famous protagonist has the feel of an autobiographical stand-in. But this is far from a nostalgia trip. Every time the self-righteous Pete opens his mouth, the play turns into an uneasy act of self-flagellation. Spitz seems more comfortable parodying the off-camera banter between competing pundits, a vicious game in which clever one-upmanship is the currency of choice. The Name of This Play Is Talking Heads may seem bitter at times, but it knows when to be funny, which luckily is very often. In the end, the play’s primary source of creative inspiration may not be David Byrne at all, but that far more difficult-to-please rock deity, Lester Bangs.