August 1, 2007 - August 7, 2007
Off Broadway Theatre Review
Written by HELEN SHAW
Some theater types spend their time trying to break down the fourth wall. Playwright-composer Grant James Varjas and his musical 33 to Nothing concentrate on building it back up—but this time as a wall of sound. With the volume cranked (at least one groundling fled the speakers), this unpretentiously vérité rock-theater piece manages to be consistently moving…and not just because the drummer can make the seats jump.
In a realistically crappy rehearsal space, wallpapered in peeling soundproofing foam, a five-piece band practices for an upcoming gig. During the intersong banter, the playwright wastes no time in revealing the group’s bass line of dysfunction. Lead singer Gray (Varjas) keeps writing lyrics about ex-boyfriend and guitarist Bri (Preston Clarke); the thirtyish married couple on bass (Amanda Gruss) and guitar (John Good) is showing ugly signs of “growing up”; and Gray’s constant drinking has gotten positively immersive now that his mother has died. The songs are good—occasionally excellent—and Varjas spins catty one-liners and music trivia into a hard-drinking mash-up of Noël Coward and Nick Hornby. It’s a style that serves the nonprofessional-actor cast, particularly Clarke, whose credits lie in the singer-songwriter vein. Nevertheless, he and Varjas generate astonishing heat, capitalizing on the odd, erotic electricity that arises between musicians as they meet eyes to synchronize rhythms. The entire work includes the audience in that creative frisson, and Varjas and company manage to seduce us on practically the same downbeat as each other.