33 to Nothing
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
March 3, 2006
A soundproofed and grubby rehearsal room, complete with empty beer cans and bottles. The hum of an amp. The sound of ice clinking in a glass of vodka and someone tuning a guitar. Argo Theater Co.'s new outing 33 to Nothing is a slice of life in a bar band that hasn’t made it big. Everyone in the band is getting older, and decisions need to be made. It’s an impressive study of a band’s deconstruction.
Written by Grant James Varjas, Gray (played by Varjas) has a tense relationship with the entire band. One guitarist is his former lover Bri and the other is his former best friend Tyler; the bassist is Alex, who “stole” Tyler away when she married him. Some in the band want to “grow up” and buy a house or have children, and others simply want to move on to safer and healthy relationships. The only one who does not seem influenced by all this tension is the slightly obtuse drummer Barry, hilariously and wonderfully played by Ken Forman. His comic timing gives the show much needed levity and lightness and his cell phone ring tone (and his short defense of it) are a laugh out-loud experience.
Preston Clarke (Bri) and Varjas do a splendid job showing the complexity of their relationship and the tensions that remain even when a relationship is over. The chemistry, regret, and anger that exist between them are unambiguous and moving. Unfortunately, other relationships in this play go unrealized. It’s hard to see that Tyler (played by John Good, who also directed the play) and Gray were ever friends, or even that Tyler misses their closeness. The marriage between Alex (Amanda Gruss) and Tyler lacks spark and at times it’s not very clear how or why they ended up together. Indeed Alex shows more life with drummer Barry than with Tyler.
Most of Gray’s songs seem to be post-mortems of his failed association with Bri, and his propensity for self-destruction tears the band apart. If he cannot be happy, Gray is determined to make the lives of his bandmates miserable as well. Gray “thrives on emotional violence,” and Bri finally tells him “there’s too much you,” as his reason for leaving both the band and the relationship. The play gives many reasons as to why Grant is so self-destructive, but it becomes almost impossible to excuse his behavior and as a result his character becomes entirely unsympathetic. The songs only seem to highlight Gray’s utter self-absorption, instead of letting us feel compassion and understanding. Varjas does, however, have a amazing bit of behavior, when he’s left all alone with his guitar. It seems, finally, that he’s through with destruction. For the moment, at least.
At times, the songs detract from the pacing and compelling interplay between the characters, but the songs themselves are soulful and quite catchy. The actors all play their own instruments, and they truly work together like a band. Some of them, Clarke especially, are clearly terrific musicians in their own right.
First time director Good does a likable job with the piece. 33 to Nothing sometimes bites off more than it can chew; it poses so many questions and conflicts that many get left by the wayside and go unresolved. Nevertheless, Varjas and his cast give a striking study of band, with all the frustration and love that keeps them together, even when it’s clear that it’s time to move on.