THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW at Blackfriars Theatre
Blackfriars Theatre closes its 2018-2019 season with a play deeply rooted in sentimentality, one that centers on gentrification and yearning for the past during a time of rapid change. The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, written by Laura Eason, is ultimately the story of a daughter moving forward and a Dad stuck in the past, set against a backdrop that could aptly be described as a punk rock version of "Cheers."
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is set in an iconic Chicago rock club during the early 90's. Hank (Matt Ames) is the owner of a club that is struggling to stay afloat. When his beloved daughter Lena (Kate Armstrong), starts dating rising-star DJ Nash (Laron Dewberry), Hank must contend with the destructive power of the "Next Big Thing", as well as the corporate forces of Joey (David Andreatta) and his slumlord father. Hank's most important battle, however, is with his impending march toward irrelevance.
Change is the driving factor of this play, as is fear of being replaced or relegated. Whether it's young vs. old, rock vs. rap, and even black vs. white, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is ultimately a play focused on the changing currents of our lives and the world around us. It's a story well-known in the world of music and the venues where it takes place, but also in the urbanized world generally. One need look no further than the Starbucks on every corner, or the bulldozing of record stores by Spotify, to know that we live in an ever-changing world that feels increasingly cookie-cutter and less unique and full of life. It's a force that Hank feels most acutely, and one that he sees personified by Nash.
Undeniable Sound also provides a romanticized snapshot into the world of grunge and punk rock during a time when, even at its peak, it was already starting to get edged out by DJ's and more synthesized music. Hank's bar is loosely based on Chicago's Lounge Ax, but it could just as easily be CBGB's or any other of a million hole-in-the-wall clubs that rockers still idolize that were ultimately shuttered in favor of dance clubs and franchise eateries.
Stealing the show is Kate Armstrong, who captures Lena's youthful energy, angst, and heartwarming devotion to her Dad. She's got that punk rock aesthetic but is also still a bit of a Daddy's girl, and she's balancing her reverence for the bar with her excitement for a new adventure. It's a really fun, wonderfully acted character that Armstrong is well cast for.
David Andreatta's Joey is your prototypical corporate shill, a hack who values a quick buck over iconic landmarks like Hank's that have stood the test of time. Dressed in his crisp suits and slicked-back hair, Joey is a stand-in for the downfall of indie rock culture writ-large, and of commercial takeover. He's an almost totally unsympathetic character, played admirably by Andreatta who, for my two cents, is one of Blackfriars' best recurring regulars.
The acting's great and the story is compelling, but the world-building done by Blackfriars for The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is what makes it worth your buck(s). Rather than the local theatre you know and love, you'll feel like you just walked in to a grungy music venue, complete with a working bar (where you can enjoy a delicious Rohrbach's before the show, or at intermission), posters on the wall, a live band, and even the crushed solo cups littered on the floor. Kudos to Scenic Designer Roger Budnik and the entire production team for a truly transporting set and physical space.
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now hits on important themes like gentrification and an ever-changing world, but is ultimately a story about the love and tension between a father and a daughter. It's well-acted, well-produced, and ends Blackfriars' season on a high note; a shredding, whammy-barred high note.
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is playing at Blackfriars Theatre until May 26th. For tickets and more information, click here.