Toward the end of Attorney for the Damned, a cast member planted in the audience stands up to denounce the play as typical East Village bullshit and demands her money back. It’s a little risky for the show to so openly acknowledge the doubts that audience members might have, but playwright Denis Woychuk demonstrates a real appetite for risk in what is unquestionably the oddest rock opera about an attorney for the mentally ill I’ve ever seen.
Performed in the Kraine Theater, which Woychuk owns along with the attached KGB Bar, the play takes its inspiration from the author’s early legal career. But it swiftly abandons any pretense at gritty realism; if this musical were a DVD, it would assuredly be filed in the psychotronic section. Featuring a trial interrupted when the defense attorney finds a severed finger in her pocket, a mind-control device based on bar codes, and the most assiduous employment of chloroform since The Green Hornet went off the air, Attorney for the Damned gives every impression of having been written while listening nonstop to the Ramones.
Would that composer Rob McCulloch had done the same—the classic-rock-flavored score rarely rises above workmanlike. But solid performances keep the musical afloat, including potent turns by Pat Mattingly and Denny Blake as dueling maniacs and a fine cameo by pit-band bassist Teddy Williams as a dubious psychiatrist. Attorney for the Damned isn’t likely to revolutionize the way we think about mental illness, but it’s a lively alternative to a midnight movie.