In 1956, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger shocked London audiences, presenting in gritty, realist style the travails of a down-and-out love triangle and launching the class-conscious Angry Young Men movement.
Who are the articulately angry young men and women of today? You probably won’t find out from Dead Behind These Eyes: A Karaoke Play, a new mash-up by the company Sister Sylvester produced by Abrons Arts Center under the direction of Kathryn Hamilton.
Staged in the mildewy basement of an East Village karaoke bar, Dead combines snippets of Osborne’s drama with a stew of karaoke sequences, pop-culture tidbits, and attempts at audience provocation. Three performers intone their dialogue directly into spectators’ faces — even though, aside from a general air of confrontation, it’s rarely clear what they want from us. Pop-culture antics punctuate the scenes: Buzzfeed quizzes, Miley Cyrus-esque squirrel suits, vague bumping and grinding to Prince. But these elements add up to a pretty fuzzy indictment of today’s world. The conclusion features recent footage from Ferguson, Missouri — a gesture to contemporary sources of anger but not one this performance really earns.
The bright spot? Eventually the actors turn over the mic to spectators for some impromptu karaoke. (My theater companion belted out “Love Is a Battlefield.”) For the first time all night, everyone present was enjoying the show.