Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Derek Ahonen’s The Qualification of Douglas Evans: A Corrosively Funny Meta-Comedy

A persistent sense of meta fuels Derek Ahonen‘s hilariously satirical new play The Qualification of Douglas Evans, an Amoralists production running through August 9 at the Walker Space, 46 Walker St. (off West Broadway) in Tribeca. The playwright plays Evans, a playwright himself, tracing his romantic and alcohol-fueled adventures and misadventures (far more of the latter than the former) from dorky acting student, to enfant terrible of the New York theatre underground, to a long downward spiral that seems to telegraph where it’s all going to end with the first slurred words of a long bender. Booze may be Evans’ muse, but women are a close second, and Ahonen mines his character’s inability to navigate a series of relationships for an often devastating look at the battle of the sexes. Along the way, Ahonen directs plenty of venom at backbiting and careerism in the New York theatre world. The writing is crisp, the humor murderously spot-on: the jokes come lickety-split, one after the other.

The acting is as acerbic as Ahonen’s dialogue. Kelley Swindall plays Jessica, who takes Evans’ virginity, with a cynical self-awareness that’s all the more amusing for being completely deadpan and straightforward. And while the other characters seem at first to be straight out of Central Casting, Ahonen gives them all a counterintuitive edge. Mandy Nicole Moore plays Douglas’ first drunken foil, Kimmy, your classic cluelessly chirpy drunk chick, who as it turns out has something up her sleeve. Samantha Strelitz is deliciously self-serving as the fauxhemian trust fund girl who suddenly drops back into the picture when it seems she can play the starfucker role. Agatha Nowicki gets the play’s most complex and arguably most troubling role as Cara, whose immutable, Adderal-fueled new age cheer masks inner torment every bit the match for Evans’ demons. Those are illuminated via flashbacks with Evans’ alcoholic dad and codependent mom (Penny Bittone and Barbara Weetman, who also shine in multiple roles).

While the first act plays up the jokes for every possible ounce of corrosive cynicism, the second is practically the reverse image of the first, a theme straight out of Charles Bukowski whose ending you can see a mile away – or can you? No spoilers here.

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July 14, 2014 Posted by | drama, review, Reviews, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nightcrawling 3/3/11

There’s been a wave of buzz lately about Americana songwriter Kelley Swindall, who’ll be on southern tour with Lorraine Leckie in the not-so-distant future. And it would have been nice to have been able to catch her whole set at Banjo Jim’s Thursday night. By almost eight, she was wrapping up it up with a couple of low-key, tuneful country-pop numbers that sounded like Sheryl Crow with a college degree. It’ll be interesting to catch more of her songs somewhere down the road.

Israeli-American rocker Rony Corcos was next. She’s a raw talent, somebody worth keeping your eye on. Watching her run her beautiful Les Paul through a series of pedals was something you rarely see at Banjo Jim’s, and what was obvious right off the bat was how good she’d sound if she had bass and drums behind her: she’s clearly a rocker, somebody who knows her way around the fretboard and has real command of a surprisingly diverse number of styles. PJ Harvey is the obvious influence, and that really made itself known when she did an understatedly intense cover of The Piano late in the show, delivering it with an only slightly restrained, compelling wail. Her other cover was a raw, vivid version of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, a launching pad for some poignantly soulful, incisive, amazingly precise blues runs. Her originals, some of them so new they didn’t have titles yet, put a harder-rocking spin on inventively jazz-tinged, late 70s Joni Mitchell stylings, along with a big, crunchy, hypnotic rock anthem that she artfully assembled layering one loop on top of another and then singing and soloing over it. What was too bad was that as intelligent and diverse as most of her playing is, sometimes she falls back on the stupid moveable chords (think Pearl Jam, Dashboard Confessional or just about any dumb indie guitar band) that have defined indie music pretty much since the 80s. It would be nice if this was just a part of a learning curve (the last musician we criticized for that kind of lazy playing made one of the best albums of the following year – here’s hoping lightning strikes twice).

At Pete’s Candy Store about an hour later, Whiting Tennis, former leader of popular lower East Side band the Scholars, took the stage and played a potently captivating set, also solo on electric guitar, to a full house. Where Corcos is exploring a whole slew of styles while she finds her own voice, Tennis’ music has the same penetrating consistency of vision as his visual art – at this point in his career, he’s best known as a painter and sculptor with a eerily impactful, rustic Pacific Northwest gothic sensibility. Musically, growling peak-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse are the obvious influences, although as he told the crowd late in the set, his quietly blistering kiss-off song Heart of Soap grew out of a line he misheard from a Smog song, which makes sense in that he’d make a good doublebill with Bill Callahan. Other than a simmering bluesy shuffle toward the end of the show, everything he played was slow-to-midtempo. His pensive, sardonic, sometimes brutally sarcastic lyrics are excellent. And as stylistically, and sonically similar as his songs are (he stuck with his signature gritty, distorted guitar tone all night), a close listen revealed how diverse the tunes are. Bad Checks – “Was a time when you’d write a check,” he grinned nostalgically – sounded like As Tears Go By as done by Neil Young. Another had the feel of Crazy Horse tackling Wish You Were Here: “Save us from these Christian men,” he intoned sarcastically. The night’s funniest moment came when he recalled a nightmare family scenario – his father’s a minister, and there was an argument over whether tap water or river water were more appropriate for a baptism. “Hit a deer broadside on the highway…as I dragged it across the road it felt like I was dragging the whole world on a blanket,” he sang nonchalantly on the chorus, a rapid return to brooding, intense mode. He wrapped up his hour onstage with a bitter evocation of John Brown’s execution. Tennis makes the occasional return trip to his old hometown when he’s not in Seattle; his 2006 album Three Leaf Clover is one of the underrated gems of the last decade.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment