March 14, 2006
NYC Theatre Review
Written by GWEN OREL
"33 to Nothing" has a good beat. You can dance to it. Or, at least, nod your head to its downtown Bowie-cum-Coldplay groove. Labeled a "play with music," this latest production from the Argo Theater Company about a band's breakup is a cross between a play and a house concert. Although some of the best musicians don't act very well, and some of the best actors have more attitude than musical chops, it's a lively experiment that combines heartache, humor and powerful songs.
Playing in a dilapidated rehearsal room, the band is led by Gray (Grant James Varjas). (Mr. Varjas also wrote the play and the songs, except for "Lost to Me," which includes music by John Good, who directed the play and has the role of Tyler.) Gray is 36, balding, still in love with his bandmate Bri (Preston Clarke) and flailing through life. All his songs are about his breakup with Bri. This makes it hard for Bri, but also adds comic punch to the rehearsal. Rounding out the band are the drummer, Barry (Ken Forman), who is as enthusiastic as a puppy, and the sarcastic, straight-talking bass player, Alex (Amanda Gruss), who is married to Beach Boys-handsome Tyler.
The banter is sharp, particularly the snarky comments about other bands. Bowie is an "ex-gay" who "reneged on us." Gray tells Alex, about her relationship with Tyler, "I should've known you would go all Yoko on us."
Audience members might recognize elements of the Beatles' film "Let It Be," the rock-musical "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and scenes from Cameron Crowe's fictionalized autobiographical film, "Almost Famous." Structurally, though, the play is lacking; when Bri protests to Gray that the band is "too much you," he could be speaking about the play itself. Although Mr. Varjas is twitchily expressive, Gray has the only fully realized character. Exposition is occasionally clumsy, and the end falls flat. Still, "33 to Nothing" is dynamic and alive. With some more studio time, it has the makings of a hit.
"33 to Nothing" continues through April 8 at the Bottle Factory Theater, 195 East Third Street, East Village; (212)868-4444.