Kensington Arts Theatre Rooms: A Rock RomanceBy Genie Baskir • May 15th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Kensington Arts Theatre
Kensington Town Center, Kensington, MD
Through May 26th
2:30 no intermission
$13-$20 (+ fees)
Reviewed May 12th, 2012
Rooms: A Rock Romance at the Kensington Arts Center is a sort of Sid & Nancy: Love Kills without the sex, drugs and rock and roll. It does have all three of these essentials of life, but only in very sanitary and pristine references. But that fault lies in the book by Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon, not KAT’s production.
The thin story is given body by two talented and charming actors and, as usual, the Kensington Arts Center has produced a fine show. But your reviewer’s concern with this show is that it is only meaningful to a coterie of aging Baby Boomers pogoing down memory lane with knee and hip replacements; and the story of The Diabolicals has no grounding in the reality of those years. We hobble in for the music but our children and grandchildren are not seeing the allure of our salad days.
The story is so simple, describing it leaves my reader little reason to see the show and your reviewer thinks the show is something to see. My date for the evening was a local, still working actress who is closer to her tenth decade than her ninth and she thoroughly enjoyed this show about the rise of Punk Rock in the late 1970’s in the United Kingdom and its onrush into New York.
Monica is the self-described Barbra Streisand of Glasgow with the same drive and divaness of Streisand, but from a better family. Ian is a working class kid holed up in his room playing guitar and composing music. The two backstories are Ian’s continuing the family tradition of alcoholism and Monica’s family being the Glaswegian Jewish version of August: Osage County. This matters but it makes no sense to the thesis except as some sort of bagel thrown to L.A. and New York investors in the show; or so it seems to this reviewer. But the original score is a menu of ’70’s music styles chronicling Monica’s development and later The Diabolicals’ as they find fame and unhappiness.
Rooms is the sort of intimate show that must be carried by its principals and Madeline Botteri as Monica and Eric Jones as Ian get that job done with tremendous vocals and belief in what they’re doing. Coached in a Scottish dialect by Casey Jones, the pair never lose the accent and speech of Glasgow in this piece which is as intense for the two actors as is that brisk pogo down memory lane for those of us of a certain age. It is a Punk Rock Opera; but a too clean story about a very debased time. Without Botteri’s and Jones’ powerful vocals and chemistry, there is no show worth seeing.
The United Kingdom in the late ’70’s was in the throes of a social depression combined with a poor economy that led to an anti-social, anti-artistic movement of young toughs acting out their collective hopelessness and becoming rich and famous for it. New York was dangerous and gritty and still affordable to live in. It was owned by its denizens, not by Disney, Sephora and American Girl. The Lower East Side was alive with music and movement and that is where Ian and Monica ultimately find themselves after winning a music contest in Glasgow; the prize being bus tickets to London and, consequently, a record contract if they become punk rockers. It was the pre MTV era of living one’s own life via experience instead of someone else’s life via video. The couch potato hadn’t been invented yet and our diet was drugs and alcohol and our exercise was slamming.
The story is advanced as a series of rooms in which the two characters find themselves separately and together and the set by John Decker cleverly enabled the actors to incorporate the scene changes by moving a portable doorway. The sound and sound design by Kevin Garrett contributes to the success of the evening because a fine five piece rock orchestra with Conductor is behind a scrim at the back of the stage. The score and the musical numbers are a 1970’s time line of rock music development culminating in a jingle for the Scotland Tourist board…or something like that.
Botteri and Jones have talent and stamina and they sell the story along with the music; but the story sinks without their talent. This was a bold choice by KAT and this reviewer congratulates the company for taking the chances other companies are afraid to take.
Since signing on to direct Rooms, we have been posed with the question, “So what is this show about?” At first we wold give a long-winded answer starting with, “Well, it’s a story about first love, etc, etc, etc.” But as we delved further into the material, we realized that Rooms is not just some story of boy gets girl; it’s a modern-day fairytale. One that manages to carry itself with lightness and grace, while at the same time dealing with some very heavy issues.
We were extremely fortunate to be able to work with an incredibly talented creative team, specifically our fearless and passionate actors, and an inspired technical crew. The story of Rooms doesn’t occur over a short period, but follows two people who find each other, grow apart, and then are able to grow separately into people that are perfect for one another. Both Madeline and Eric have been able to handle the tumultuous relationship within the plot with ease and beauty, making what could seem hackneyed and overdone, real and honest.
We cannot say how proud we are of the show you are here to see tonight, and we hope you are able to fall in love with these characters and their journey as much as we have. It’s been quite a challenge finding our way through the world of Rooms, but we’ve been able to do it.
In the words of the glorious Jan and Monica: God save the new wave!
Dani and Lenora
Photos provided by Kensington Arts Theatre
- Monica: Madeline Botteri
- Ian: Eric Jones
- Conductor: Leah Cocsis
- Guitar 1: Rick Peralta, Rob Weaver
- Guitar 2: Ian Larkin
- Bass: Tony Aragon
- Drums: Thaddeus Achey
- Keyboards: Leah Kocsis, Marci Shegogue
- Producers: Kevin Garrett, Giang Pettinati
- Directors: Dani Danger Stoller, Lenora Spahn
- Music Director: Leah Kocsis
- Stage Manager: Donna Shute
- Set, Scenic Designer: John Decker
- Properties: Brian Campbell
- Lighting Design: John D. Alexander
- Sound Design: Kevin Garrett
- Costume Design: Giang Pettinati
- Hair/Makeup Design: Clare Palace
Disclaimer: Kensington Arts Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. Actor Eric Jones is a reviewer for ShowBizRadio, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8071.
Genie Baskir is a theatrical producer. She worked in radio production and direction for many years and gravitated to theatre when family members became involved with the stage.