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THEATER REVIEW Undeniable Sound of Right Now
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-05-13

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Playwright: Laura Eason

At: Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: 773-338-2177; RavenTheatre.com; $43. Runs through: June 16

"There was a time when music mattered more than anything," laments Hank.

It's 1992 and Hank—not yet 50—has run an eponymous Chicago live-rock bar for 25 years. I understand Hank because I remember when we thought the Beatles and Dylan had all the answers, the poets and philosophers of a generation. But now Hank is under pressure. The industrial neighborhood is gentrifying, the twenty-somethings want DJ mixes of House and Hip-Hop rather than unknown live rockers ( even if they became Nirvana, Kiss and The Clash ) and Hank's 22-year-old daughter, Lena ( Lindsay Stock ), knows that survival requires flexibility.

The music, of course, is a metaphor for themes of family, personal integrity, loyalty, ambition and opportunity—all of which boil down to what constitutes progress. Dylan served notice that the times are a-changing, but Hank is an unreconstructed rocker. He's caring ( although crusty ) but—like Dickens' Fezziwig—he's a dinosaur who won't compromise, even for cash-on-the-barrel.

Laura Eason's 90-minute play is well-crafted but by-the-numbers and predictable. Perhaps damning it with faint praise, it seems like a pilot for a TV dramedy that would feature rock performances in Hank's bar alternating with warehouse raves. The play's secondary characters are mere plot points as used, seemingly waiting for their episodes: Toby ( Christopher Acevedo ), the bar back who carries a torch for Lena; Nash ( Henry Greenberg ), the rising-star DJ who briefly is Lena's love interest; Joey ( Casey Morris ), the unsubtle young landlord; and Bette ( Dana Black ), Hank's longtime squeeze and Lena's surrogate mom.

The problem certainly is not the production, which is beautifully directed by BJ ( sic ) Jones. He has an astute sense of pacing and dynamics, and he's of an age to understand the era. Jeff Mills—a relative Chicago newcomer—is a real find as Hank: he's the right age, has the right look, is credible whether affable or cantankerous AND he actually can play rock guitar! To a person, the actors are sincere and believable but most of them are written as two-dimensional characters.

In-demand scenic designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec has outdone himself with the wide Hank's bar setting, a heavily lived-in kaleidoscope of graffiti and grunge. One unusual touch is the fully-constructed ceiling which includes the 2" x 12" joists and cross-bracing for the floor above ( home to Hank, Bette and Lena and subject to leaks when it rains ).

When Hank playing guitar riffed on "Sympathy for the Devil" and other rock anthems, some audience members knowingly hummed along because most of the audience were aging Baby Boomers like Hank himself. Although written in 2015, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now seems like a throwback to an earlier era of American theatrical realism, and the audience that supported it.


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