Theater Review: THE UNDENIABLE SOUND OF RIGHT NOW (Raven Theatre in Chicago)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 8, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Letting a good thing go is a hard fate: Change is always constant but it’s never guaranteed to be good. A tough transition in Chicago’s indie rock scene is feelingly chronicled in Laura Eason’s The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, a Chicago premiere at Raven Theatre. The title sounds like a visceral response to an expiration date — and indeed “right now” is the fall of 1992, the locale Hank’s Place.

It seems an unlikely place for a small-scale revolution in art, this former slaughter house, now a run-down rock emporium with a leaky roof, wonderfully detailed in Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s evocative set. Despite a storied past that featured The Clash, Nirvana, KISS and Stevie Nicks, this neighborhood landmark is fighting for its future. BJ Jones’s assured staging makes the crisis stand for much more than music.

Twenty-five years of showcasing live rock music from garages to greatness are threatened as Hank (Jeff Mills) contends with rising rent and an encroaching phoniness — the arrival of soulless DJs who play canned electronic “house music” for ignorant, drugged-up club kids and fake fans.

On Hank’s side is his once and future girlfriend Bette (Dana Black). She’s a second mom to Hank’s daughter Lena (Lindsay Stock), equally loyal but caught up in the new hip-hop vibe. Then there’s soundman Toby (Christopher Acevedo), a lovable goofball who’s crazy for Lena and married to the music.

Opposing them is venal Joey (Casey Morris), the landlord’s greedy son who may be stuck on Lena but has plans for Hank’s Bar that don’t include Hank or real rock. Vacillating between these extremes is Lena’s DJ boyfriend Nash (Henry Greenberg), a young blood who hopes to meld the two styles. Fat chance.

This familiar friction may not be a clash of the titans, but Raven’s megamix matters: Eason, a fourth-generation Chicagoan, makes her struggle for the soul of the sound into a metaphor for Windy City trade-offs and sell-outs, past and future. Sadly, an “undeniable sound” can be denied and “right now” can turn into, as the play put it, a “narcissistic fuckfest.”

When Nash hosts a one-night gig promoting the new dispensation, it nets $25,000. That tempting windfall proves the root of, well, evil. The lines are drawn between a past worth preserving and a future designed to make louses like Joey filthy — as in rich.

The quest for authenticity triggers a showdown between galloping gentrification dictating corrupting compromises and embattled and outflanked purity. We’ve been here before.

Raven’s six actors pump up actual urgency — and raise the stakes in every scene. Mills’ stubborn resistance to giving in to mediocrity is echoed by Stock’s dogged defense of her dad. Driving home Bette’s bedrock decency, Black is salt-of-the-earth believable. Morris’s otherwise rancid Joey gets sympathy as an unloved son repudiating his father’s contracts. Acevedo and Greenberg fare well as true believers trying to find the right beat as a new millennium lurks ahead.

We’re well inside that 21st  century — and from that perilous perspective it’s easy to see the bitter irony, not just of the play’s title but, well, of the way we were. It can’t hurt to be reminded of the left-overs who deserved much more.

photos by Michael Brosilow

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now
Raven Theatre Company, 6157 N. Clark St. (at Granville)
Thurs-Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3
ends on June 16, 2019
for tickets, call 773.338.2177 or visit Raven Theatre

for more, visit Theatre in Chicago

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