Present at the creation: that’s where devoted theatergoers can be this month, thanks to the New Plays Festival, coordinated by the estimable Kevin McGuire, of Broadway and Hubbard Hall fame.
Last night Kevin Dobies’ “Battles of the Band” premiered in the new Proctors venue just down the street from the arcade entrance. If the script still feels like a work in progress in spots, there are enough accomplished moments to keep the audience interested and laughing, and the production itself, under Jonathan Whitton’s sure direction, crackles with passion.
At times this story of an Albany garage band trying to make it in the music world feels like “Scenes from the Bohemian Life,” which inspired the opera by Puccini and the musical “Rent.” That is, the script is rather episodic, jumping place and time and shifting tonally, occasionally without preparation. Taken in that spirit, the work satisfies.
And Dobies has certainly created some intriguing characters, starting with Rob Cantwell (Trevor Vaughn), the lead singer of Ace Bandage. Rob is a young man devoted to music, beer and fighting — when the occasion requires it. His former girlfriend, Lori (Reema Zaman), is the lead singer of a competing band, and her conniving ways add spice to the proceedings. Finally, Shannon (Yvonne Perry), the owner of a music store and the Fort Orange Club (no, not that one, but a similarly named nightclub), piques our curiosity with both a veiled reference to her performing past and a breezy and confident manner that throws the vain strivings of the young band members into relief. I’d like to know a little more about her.
The Bohemian life is not only about art, of course; it’s also about love, usually love gone wrong. (Hence the title “Battles of the Band,” a riff on battle of the bands). In this case, Rob falls for Nathalie (Myleah Misenhimer), a college junior who appears at one of Ace Bandage’s concerts and quickly becomes his lover. The relationship has its turbulent moments as she tries to help him get on his feet financially while not interfering with his music. Trouble is, oil and water don’t mix, and at the end of the play, their affair goes bust.
Others in the cast are Ian Sullivan, as Mel, Rob’s best friend and bandmate; Brian Massman, as DJ Dave; and Paul Ricciardi, as Rich, the lead singer of the Cola Pimps. The singers are backed by Terry Weaver and Liam Malone; we actually get to hear half a dozen numbers by the bands.
The entire cast, some of whom are appearing in the festival’s other plays, keeps the focus even though they’re playing on the floor, right in the arms of the audience. Kudos to Perry’s world-weary Shannon and Zaman’s smart-mouthed Lori.
Misenhimer, a young actress from Schoharie County, is a find: utterly natural in her movements and line readings. It’s not completely clear what motivates Nathalie to latch on to Rob in the first place — a college student trying on the night life? a young woman running away from a sketchy past?— but Misenhimer subtly suggests deeper waters throughout, and especially in Nathalie’s fight scene. Beautifully paced.
Vaughn is remarkable. Rob is nearing 30; he’s been seeking his musical fortune for 15 years, so he’s frequently desperate. Vaughn pours out Rob’s soul in torrents of expletives and complaints, making us commiserate, chuckle and cringe all at the same time. Chemistry between Rob and Nathalie is utterly credible in the hands of these two performers.
Take a look at the latest offerings in local playwriting: the scripts submitted to this competition had to come from within a 50-mile radius of the Capital Region. My colleague Carol King praised “General Desdemona,” which opened on Wednesday, and next week I’ll check out Nahal Navidar’s “110 Flights.”Battles of the Band
WHERE: 440 Upstairs Proctors, 440 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through April 26
HOW MUCH: $26
MORE INFO: 346-6204