The Right Side of History

A collection of writings that attempt to connect the meaning of the major and minor events and distractions of today to a broader philosophy of life that tries to strip away the non-sense, spin and lies to reveal something that is closer to truth.

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We need to realize that we are all prisoners and the prison guards are ourselves. I am trying as hard as I can to divorce myself from my ego and this materialistic nightmare we have created and in the process awaken my spiritual self.

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Apathy




8/6/05

I went to the off-Broadway Workshop Mainstage Theatre last night to see Apathy: The Gen X Musical which was this year’s opening production of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. I purposely waited to the next to last performance of the show’s run because I figured the company would be as tight as it ever was going to be.

I’ve been to many off and off-off and off-off-off Broadway productions in my life and, for the most part, I found the level of those productions not far above that of a high school play. I had no reason to think this show would be otherwise.

On that point, to my relief, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a completely professional production, and, considering the size and constraints of the actual theatre and stage, flawlessly executed. The show creates the sense of a lot of movement although it takes place in such a small and static environment.

Apathy

The talented cast of Apathy



The story entirely takes place in the living room of one of the ensemble characters Babbet (Fiona Choi). It involves her and her six friends hanging out, drinking and taking drugs and continuously bitching at each other in a sarcastic and ironic way which the young adults of the 1990s seem to think they have invented. Although the scenes represent only one continuous night in 1995, it is definitely implied that this is EVERY night in the lives of these people. An epilogue of sorts is tacked on at the end which, I think, is supposed to represent some sort of triumph for most of the characters.

But the plot is not really that important and only serves as a clothesline for the songs which were written by Mickey Zetts, who also performs in and wrote the entire show.

Mr. Zetts’ character serves as a somewhat mute Greek chorus to the actions going on around him. In the roughly 18 musical numbers, he plays guitar while the various cast members sing and dance. Sometimes for comic effect (such as "I Love Her To her face" performed by Fiona Choi) while others for poignancy (My particular favorite, "You Smile Too Much" sung by Samantha Leigh Josephs).

All the songs are catchy and it is obvious that the composer is gifted but I just wish he would have strengthened up the plot/dialogue.

I saw several advertisements for this show that featured the tag line "Fuck Rent." In fact, the character Filander (Ryan Metzger) wore a tee shirt saying just that in the performance I saw. I am assuming the promoters consider this show to be either an alternative or comparable to the off-Broadway and later Broadway smash.

I personally never saw "Rent" but my guess is that that show was a musical BY generation X’ers while "Apathy" is a show ABOUT Generation X’ers.

Sort of like the Wionna Ryder movie "Reality Bites" compared to the Alannis Morrissette album "Jagged Little Pill." Although Reality was hailed at the time as the "First Gen X movie" if you watch it today it plays like a very traditional love triangle film which you can easily see Hepburn-Grant-Stewart filling in and not missing a beat. While, on the other hand, the Morrissette album still radiates the core values which has become known as Generation X. It might be dated but the feelings are her own.

"Apathy" seems to be looking down on 1990s generation instead of immersing itself in it. Or maybe it is so immersed that the whole lifestyle is revealed as downright unsavory.

Which brings me to the other comparison I heard about this show. I saw several articles referring to "Apathy" as a Hair (1979) for the 90s. I think this is a very fair comparison.

The theatrical production of Hair had a similar structure to "Apathy" I.E. the "plot" was disjointed at best and only served as a loose structure for a string of musical numbers including "The Age of Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In."

Now compare that version with the 1978 Milos Foreman film version. Foreman takes the score and dance numbers, the strongest part of the original show, and then creates a strong narrative to support it, making it one of the best movie musicals ever made. Mr. Zetts should definitely take this into account.

But the comparison to "Hair" should go further then just the basic structure.

When it first appeared in the late 1960s, I am not sure what kind of notices it received. I believe the more "traditional" reviewers criticized it’s lack of plot while the younger ones raved about it’s serious attempt at representing the hippie movement that was in full swing although pretty much ignored by mainstream entertainments. There was also a scandal about the nudity in one of the scenes which was unheard of at the time.

Keeping that in mind, I thought to myself, "Am I one of those traditionalists who am poo-pooing on something because it doesn’t follow ‘the rules’ and depicts something I do not relate to or particularly understand?"

After careful consideration, I don’t believe that is the problem.

The musical Hair broke all the rules. It lacked structure, featured Rock music and nudity, which were all taboo in the "legitimate" musical theatre. But its message was overwhelmingly POSITIVE. Yes, the hippie movement in hindsight can easily be characterized as narcissistic and hedonistic but the overwhelming theme was freedom.

The play dealt with the human spirit trying to break free of an unjust system by exposing and undermining the norms of the establishment. Through clothes, music, drugs and sex, the Hippie minority questioned conventional morality which, in turn, eventually made the majority question their own "undeniable truths." Obviously the 1960s fell way short in the social revolution department but, in my opinion, we are far better off for it and that decade at least put us in the right direction.

Both the play (Made at the time in the "Eye of the storm") and the film (Made ten years later in hindsight) celebrate this widely held opinion.

What does "Apathy" celebrate?

It depicts a generation of kids who were handed everything materialistically and it STILL wasn’t good enough for them just like the 1960s. The complaining about the system that made them comfortable also is comparable but WHAT did these two groups complain about? In the 1960s it was about social injustice. In the1990s it was about cable TV.

No wonder why we are in the mess that we are in now.

Now I am not the one who demands a "happy ending," or only watch plays, shows or films that deal with sunshine and positive glows. In fact, my favorite pieces usually deal with darker material and end ambiguously or decidedly unjustly. So the fact that the subject matter or characters are pathetic is not the problem. I do not expect Mr. Zetts to change history.

But I do expect insight into the pathetic and sad existence the author is depicting which, unfortunately, does not come through in "Apathy." The dialogue is way to literal. It is as if a tape recorder was turned on during an all night acid drenched whine-fest with conversations that might be considered remotely interesting to the involved parties but has no relevancy to an outside observer. That is level one.

Or maybe that is the point.

By presenting two hours of dismal conversation about petty concerns, meaningless bickering and total lack of care, Mr. Zetts’ goal was to accurately portray the 1990s generation as it was and make no comment. By doing that, he allows the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions. If that is the case I say he succeeded in his purpose.

But, for example, consider the poetry of the above-mentioned, "You Smile Too Much," a song about facades. Or how about the interesting premise of the more comedic "Mr. Bitter’s Blues" (Sung by Ethan Gomez) which involves the mocking of an aging hippie. The lyrics are considerably more sophisticated then anything that is spoken in between and hints at the heights this show could have achieved.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression it was not a good show because it was. The whole cast was talented and attractive and performed with great energy. Several of the performers, specifically Sami Rudnick and Fiona Choi, had beautiful singing voices. The song and dance numbers were well staged.

Judging by the SRO attendance the night I was there, which I am to understand has been the case for the show’s entire run, I am sure we will be seeing everybody involved in this production in other things in the near future.

But the lion’s share of the credit must go to the obviously talented writer/composer Mickey Zetts. I am hoping his next project takes it to the next level.

Sixth Army


2 Comments:

Anonymous Ryan Metzger said...

Hey dude,

Thanks for coming to the show! You were part of a great crowd and we were fortunate to have you there. Glad you enjoyed yourself!

Regards,

Ryan Metzger

8/08/2005 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Mickey Zetts said...

Thank you for your kind words, Sir. I appreciate your views. :)
Warm Regards,
Mickey Zetts

8/08/2005 4:55 PM  

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