This was the weekend for theater set in the ‘80s with a Jewish theme. Bad Habit Productions’ mini-musical, ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE (extended through Sept. 1st) is a pop rock, stream of consciousness account of two twenty-somethings from Scotland, one Jewish, one not, looking for their identity. Gloucester Stage’s THIS IS OUR YOUTH (playing through Aug. 25th)—which should be subtitled “God Help Us”—is set on New York’s upper west side where two young Jewish men in their twenties have already given up the search for identity. They’re only interested in scoring women and drugs--- and money for more women and drugs.
I saw a production of THIS IS OUR YOUTH a few years back, which played up the comedy in the piece but director Lewis Wheeler’s harrowing production for Gloucester paints a much darker picture of these slackers. Alex Pollock gives a wonderfully gangly, physical performance as the twenty-nothing looking for a room somewhere to crash for a few days. He twitches and writhes in discomfort in front of a woman (a vulnerable Amanda Collins) and he’s palpably intimidated by his wheeler (drug) dealer buddy, played to psycho perfection by Jimi Stanton. (It’s one of the scariest performances I’ve seen in a long time.) Talk about downers. If this really was “our youth” back then, it explains the mess the world is in now.
If you haven’t seen a Bad Habit show, you’re depriving yourself of some solid, often brilliant theater. This month they’re trying something different from their stellar re-dos of familiar material. Daniel Morris’ quirky staging of Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon’s intimate musical, ROOMS, feels positively claustrophobic, in Emily McCourt’s dark, hazy lighting, with the audience only two or three rows deep, surrounding the two characters like voyeurs.
The story (boy meets girl, girl pulls boy out of his comfort zone, boy gets girl then gets drunk and loses girl etc.) is sweet and sad but predictable. It’s Goodman’s music that keeps ROOMS humming with clever lyrics which rhyme “harmony parade” with “the music gets made” or Goodwin’s cheeky addition to Sondheim’s “Every day a little death”: “Take yourself a little meth!” (What I admire most is Goodman’s ability to slip exposition into a song, so it doesn’t impede the momentum of the story.)
Ashley Korolewski and Michael Levesque are splendid as the foolish young lovers looking for solace in the wrong places: he, from a bottle and she, from an adoring crowd. The problem, he’s figured out, is that he’s Led Zeppelin and she’s Carly Simon. One of the best numbers in the musical comes from one of their many missteps, when they find temporary success as a punk duo called The Diabolicals.
Music director Antanas Meilus gets just the right balance between singers and band, not an easy task with drums and electric guitars in the mix. So often in rock musicals, the singers are overwhelmed by the music. Not so at Bad Habit. You can hear every delicious lyric and Korolewski and Levesque make you care.