Laura Eason’s The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is a tight, wistful examination of time passing, losses calculated, and futures assessed, from the ramshackle context of a 25-year-old rock bar managed by a faded musician and his daughter. The bar’s “owner,” Hank (Jeb Brown), has curated bands that have gone on to great success. (Some of those referenced are real, like Nirvana, though the setting is fictional.) But his own life has wound down and settled into the lull of sentimental reminiscences. His daughter, Lena (Margo Seibert), adores Hank, but wants to move his taste into the 20th century; the play is set in Chicago in 1992. Lena gets involved with Nash (Daniel Abeles), a DJ who represents a bit too pointedly the next wave of music (hip hop) and technology (spinning instead of live playing). Lena’s relationship with the two men draws the play’s central conflict.
Along the way, Eason enumerates the costs and benefits of long-term family-like relationships. Lena’s mother was a drug addict who disappeared on her daughter and Hank; Bette (Luisa Strus), Hank’s girlfriend, became Lena’s surrogate mother. Toby (Brian Miskell), who works at the bar and pines for Lena, is like a brother/son to all of them. Joey (Chris Kipiniak), the money-grubbing landlord whose father once negotiated the bar’s rent with Hank, stands in for capitalist progress and gentrification, as the place is threatened by rent increases and changing neighborhood demographics.
Eason writes with an ear for dialogue and the nuances of relationships. The story moves predictably, charting the inevitable cultural and social changes that make the political, in this instance, also very personal. But the actors, under the crisp and even-handed direction of Kirsten Kelly, draw out the years of love, affection, and commitment among their characters in ways that ring sweet and true.
Brown plays acoustic and electric guitar when Hank has moments of solitary reflection, which bring the production intimate, soulful notes. And Strus, as the hard-bitten but big-hearted Bette, who’s taken her life in hand and moved out of the bar to the suburbs, provides warm comic relief and a sense of female camaraderie on which Lena relies as she navigates a world of competing men.
Seibert and Brown are particularly good as Lena and Hank. They’re a personal and professional team, even as Lena urges Hank toward accepting that people’s tastes in music have changed. As more than one of the characters proclaims, audiences now want more than just live performers to move them to the place where a collection of people becomes a collective, even for a moment.
Eason is a prolific playwright; she’s also a writer on the Netflix series House of Cards. She’s a former Artistic Director of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre and a Women’s Project Playwright’s Lab alumnae. She’s also been a musician herself, which shows in Undeniable Sound. The play looks with an insider’s care and concern at a moment when the music didn’t die, necessarily, but changed dramatically, and marked, in the process, transitional moments in people’s lives. Undeniable Sound of Right Now is a small (at 95 minutes), moving play, that makes me want to see and hear more of Eason’s work.
With this production, co-produced with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, The Women’s Project Theatre finished its first season under Producing Artistic Director Lisa McNulty. The Undeniable Sound of Right Now; Tanya Barfield’s Bright Half Life; A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes, by Kate Benson, co-produced with New Georges Theatre; and When January Feels Like Summer, by Cori Thomas, co-produced with Ensemble Studio Theatre, were strong productions of rich, formally varied plays that explored women’s voices at the intersections of race, class, gender, and sexuality.
It’s been good to see the WP collaborate with other local writer-driven companies. I’m looking forward to next year’s season.
The Feminist Spectator
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, by Laura Eason, directed by Kirsten Kelly, a world premiere co-production between the Women’s Project Theatre and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, through May 2, 2015.