Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review: Behind the Music

Punk isn't just a style but a state of mind. The characters in the time-bending Punk as Fuck by Michael K. White and Dianna Stark evoke a certain spirit. An aura of inventing a persona on the outside that may not reflect what’s truly beneath. Punk as Fuck is a 90s inspired drama that captures an intense jam session.
Written by Michael K. White and Dianna Stark, Punk as Fuck follows band leader CAGE and his strong-willed jam band on a journey through the past and present. Set in 1991 as the music worlds began to shift, Punk as Fuck is a character driven play that seems to be missing something important. The ensemble based piece follows the obvious love triangle between ego-maniac and stage-named CAGE, his baggage-ridden girlfriend Cassandra, and the sweet guy who doesn’t quite fit, Simon. Their saga is nothing out of the ordinary. We know from the start that, based on the common romance stereotypes, the beautiful girl is gonna leave the bad boy for the guy with the heart. The other romance that Punk as Fuck follows is between bassist Lee and his always-peeing pregnant girlfriend, Daisy. While their story serves for the more comical moments, it doesn’t quite match the content and completeness of the other. White and Stark employ a time device, traveling from the present into flashbacks that inform the final moments. While the device is intriguing, it requires intricate precision to allow the audience to understand just where in time they are. Director Katherine Sommer seemed to have an extremely difficult task to make this happened in such a particular space. While there could be some dramaturgical questions regarding structure, it’s hard to pinpoint any textual nuances due to the Sommer’s staging. White and Stark’s play is quite funny in the fact that when the band is together, we seldom actually watch them rock out. But with music playing such a prevalent role in the piece, the lack of sound, specifically during the scene shifts, caused some awkward dead air. The scenes didn’t quite slam into one another and desperately wanted to hear some sort of live music to keep the momentum going. Even if it were a simple guitar lick or riff, it would have been of great aid. Additionally, since Sommer kept some of her actors on stage during other scenes, perhaps a little subtle underscoring could have added a layer of color underneath the scenes.
photo courtesy of Anais Koivisto
Everyone wants to be a rock star even if they say they don’t. It was evident that the ensemble had a blast playing their on-stage personas. Kisky Holwerda was perfect as Cassandra. It's almost as if the role was tailor-made for her. Holwerda played the troubled girl with ease, bringing great depth and control to the part. One of her shining moments on stage was when she was simply drumming while intently listening to Quinn Wise’s Simon. She was so captivating it felt like one of those magical movie moments. Preston Mulligan as CAGE/Dewayne was perfectly intense. There’s a reason why his character felt so strongly spelling his name in all caps. Mulligan had a natural rocker essence to him. He totally discovered how to be that person you love to hate. Alexis Robbins as the Yoko-esque Daisy offered wonderful comic relief. Her spot-on comedic timing, especially during the bathroom scenes, was a joy to watch. Russell Sperberg as Lee may have had the least material but seemed to have the most fun. Quinn Wise gave the straight-guy Simon a bit of an edge, shining during his moments of sincerity.
Punk as Fuck has a built-in punk vibe to it. Capturing that essence in the design is crucial. Costume designer Anais Koivisto evoked the spirit wonderfully. The costumes felt true to the character, ranging from metal to punk to grunge. The space, the Gallery at the Access Theater, is basic with a lounge atmosphere with tables and ashtrays as the band jams when the audience arrives. The space is deliberately bare, fearlessly exposing the fourth wall. It's captivating yet terrifying at first. But as the play begins and the story progresses, the space becomes more of a hindrance. Sommer was forced to utilize certain awkward parts of the space, including the risers. With the layout as it was, it certainly caused issues with the time jumping provided by the script. Sommer did her best using a space that may not have fit the piece the best. To be completely fair, the performance I attended was a matinee and the Gallery at the Access Theater is not conducive to gain the full effect of the lighting. The design by Michelle Tobias was simple, adding a tinge of color during the flashback scenes. With the daylight seeping through the windows, it took some time to pick up on the device Tobias was using for the flashbacks and truly knowing when the blackouts were supposed to be in full effect. That being said, the soundless dead air in the dark may have been more uncomfortable. With a play set in 1991, portraying the time is essential. But nothing's sadder than non-period props. While some people may not pay attention to detail, those sitting close to the beanbag chair could completely notice the very current magazine cover and current KFC bowl.
Punk as Fuck is a courageous play about love and passion. There’s heart within. But there was a big part missing in this production. While the venue may have been the reason for the issues, trying to make it work with what you have is the key to success, something these characters missed as well.