With so much tremendous interdisciplinary work surrounding our media (the kind that propelled Kendrick Lamar toward winning a Pulitzer, to cite a recent example), it’s no surprise that the Chicago theatre scene has turned toward this propensity to combine mediums--to use theatre as a tool for exploring music, to use music as leverage for exploring social issues and relationships. While A Red Orchid’s latest production choice 33 to Nothing makes sense in this theoretical framework, the play’s reality is one which lacks the stakes it promises; aside from some talented acting, a well-designed set, and solid musicianship, 33 to Nothing is largely forgettable.
Taking place almost entirely in real time over the course of a rehearsal, the show follows a group of five friends who have been playing together for years. Since their initial run and somewhat successful stint together, though, their relationships have evolved and changed; two of them are now married, and two others, once long term partners, are still grappling with the effects of a tumultuous breakup. All of this is reflected not only in the dialogue but the music itself--most of lead singer Gray’s (Aaron Holland) songs revolve around his breakup with guitarist Bri (Steve Haggard), and the lyrical tension serves as fodder for many of the play’s scenes.
What the play lacks, though, is stakes. The long-term band is moving toward ending their time together, a struggle that, I suppose, the audience is supposed to find heart-breaking. Yet the relationships that make up most of the play’s drama are so volatile and toxic---the musical interludes are often interrupted by shouting matches--that it seems impossible to root for the group to stay together. As the instigator of many of these issues, Gray proves to be especially unlikeable. His alcohol addiction may be tragic, but his selfish character elicits little sympathy otherwise as he chides his friends for being responsible and not being as “dedicated to the band.”
A Red Orchid ensemble member Haggard offers a fantastic performance as Bri, grappling with his love for Gray and his hatred for Gray’s actions. Amanda Raquel Martinez and Annie Prichard create great chemistry together as the couple trying to distance themselves from the band, and Jeff Kurysz’s Barry is wonderfully fun and sincere. The performances, though, don’t save the plot from falling flat.
33 to Nothing is not entirely tone deaf; I would be remiss not to mention Eleanor Kahn’s scenic design, which transforms the small space into an extremely realistic rehearsal room, or to commend Joe Court’s sound design, which somehow balances the sound of multiple instruments and singing in the space masterfully. The play’s lack of dynamics overall, though, leave little to recommend.
Review by Emily Schmidt
33 To Nothing continues at A Red Orchid Theatre through May 27. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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