July 23, 2007
Written by VAN LOAN
33 To Nothing is a terrific, tough little musical in the vein of Tick, Tick...Boom or Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Grant James Varjas has written the taut, aggressive book and composed the intense alt-rock score both to sensational effect (additional credit on two of the songs is given to bandmates/cast members Preston Clark and John Good). Even the location of the newly renovated, eco-friendly theater, Wild Project, at East 3rd. St. & Ave. B adds to its street credibility.
Ostensibly about a rehearsal by a garage band for an upcoming gig, this play with music is really about the breakup of a relationship which will cause (by the play's end) the break up of the band itself. Gray (Mr. Varjas in a bravado performance) is the lead singer and songwriter for the group. He recently has broken up with Bri (Preston Clarke) who plays lead guitar in the band. He is also dealing with the recent death of his mother and his nascent alcoholism. All the songs that the band is rehearsing are about the soured relationship and their naked autobiographical pitch causes the rest of the band discomfort. This is especially true for the sympathetic Tyler (John Good) who is Gray's longtime best friend and who's wife Alex (Amanda Gruss) is also in the band. In his alcoholic, self-absorption, Gray has missed the fact that everyone else is beginning to move on to more adult pursuits. Tyler and Alex want to start a family while Bri has tentatively entered a new relationship. Only Barry, the drummer (a hilarious Ken Forman) although henpecked still wants the life of a "roadie".
Despite the tensions of both 'breakups', there is a wonderfully relaxed feel among the players enhancing the experience of a "real" band (all the actors play their own instruments to exhilarating effect). There is also a genuine caring expressed for Gray's emotional problems by the actors especially Bri. Even Ms. Gruss who is laden with playing the 'heavy' shows sufficient concern for Gray's breakdown. There is also a humorous interlude about gay rock stars (both closeted and not).
As tight as the book and the performances are, it's really the music and lyrics that the send the show soaring. Mr. Vargas' sensational lyrics are just tart enough to sting but are passionate enough to move (even though Tyler attacks Gray with the accusation "Nobody pays attention to lyrics, anymore!"). In describing the failure of his relationship in "Too Late Now", Gray sings that "you needed more than my silence while I thrived on the emotional violence" and on "28 Bars" he sings "take another Dramamine; it's just another pill for the drama queen". The rock score/rehearsal format provides the concert-like atmosphere of stopping the action while actually continuing it; credit director Randal Myler for the smooth transitions throughout. 33 To Nothing is an ambitious, powerful and ultimately moving new work.