Thursday, September 18, 2008

"Rock and Roll": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub

Everybody knows Tom Stoppard is a genius. They go to the theater to be bowled over by his cleverness, his mixing up of present and past and, probably above all, the fascinating topics he chooses to explore. "Rock and Roll," which had its Broadway premiere in 2007, has all of these and more. It's got rock and roll music. It's got politics. It's got failed Commies. It's got unrequited love which, in the end, pays off in a happy ending. What's not to like?

Nothing, if you were to go by the audience reaction on Opening Night at A.C.T. Theater. People cheered, whistled and demanded curtain calls. They laughed at every single joke. It was as if the playwright was their buddy and they already knew every line.

But not everyone was bowled over, at least not up in this reviewer's portion of the first balcony. He was not alone in wondering if the ponderous Act One was EVER going to end so he could loudly wrinkle the wrapper and eat the chocolates he had in his pocket. Every time he looked down his aisle, he noticed a continuous electronic sea of watch flashes, as people kept checking to see if the brilliant playwright had actually managed, for once and for all, to stop the hands of time.

By Intermission, all six truffles had melted into one! They were frozen when the show started. Add it up.

Act Two was better. Finally, Max (Jack Willis) became human in addition to bombastic. The excellent Jan (Manoel Felciano) aged believably. At last, the rock and roll imagery started to make sense, outside of marking the passing years. And the touching last scene almost paid off the lengthy setup.

Here it is in a nutshell: If we discovered 'Rock and Roll,' by an unknown playwright, in a small local theater, we would probably love it. But the huge, glitzy A.C.T. performance falls short. In the end, it doesn't matter how brilliant the playwright is, or how thick the press packet, or how interesting the autobiographical back story: it grabs you or it doesn't. 'Rock and Roll' has too much talk and not nearly enough rock.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards 'Rock and Roll' Three Stars with one Bangle of Praise and one bauble of despair. The excellent actors' ensemble, Douglas W. Schmidt's set and Alex Jaeger's costumes bring two stars by themselves, and vintage Stoppard lines like "Everything is dissident except shutting up and eating shit" are easily worth another. The BANGLE is for Jan and Esme's joy at the end. It's so, so contrived, but also so perfect.

Still, 'Rock and Roll' should be better than it is. The bauble of despair is for just that. It should be better.


'Rock and Roll'
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through October 18
Tue-Sun. $17-$82

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, that's pretty much what you were descirbing. Glad to have talked to you about it. I'll be curious what Maryann thinks of it.