A REVIEW BY PANDORA LOCKS
It’s been a fucked up week, Baltimore. So I was a little less than enthused by the prospect of exercising my privilege (just sayin’) and attending Spotlighter’s production of Jonathan Larson’s Tick Tick BOOM Friday. BOOM is Larson’s (pre-RENT and Pulitzer and three Tony Awards) play about a guy, Jon (Garrett Zink), trying to break into the New York entertainment industry as a composer. Jon’s turning thirty [Oh, boo-hoo. TBO] and he’s listening to the clock go tick, tick, BOOM, metaphysically, reminding of his limited time to make an impact. Jon is overwrought, anxious, stuck…huh, well, suddenly I felt a little more energetic. This is how we’re all feeling this week! Some shit has got to give! Systematic overall! Change the scope of the nation! None of us are good enough! Time is of the essence! I wanted something I could sink my teeth into.
But that wasn’t what I got. Part of the issue is that I just. don’t. fucking. like. Jon. The character, I mean. The second he walks onto the stage, looking like he just wandered in off St. Paul in a flannel shirt, brown cords and pair of Vans (costumes by Andrew Malone), I did a visceral head shake. He just doesn’t seem like someone truly on the edge and I’m honestly not at all sure I care if he is. Sure, Jonny Boy flaps around some and has a lot on his plate, but Zink ultimately conveys a guy that kind of…has his shit together? I mean, I’ve had worse anxiety worrying about someone calling me back. That was problem one. Problem two? It’s a musical. I like musicals. Love them, actually. But Zink is pitchy, especially at the beginning. I understand it’s the small stage and not the Peabody, but the lack of authentic tension and the iffy singing adds up, you know?
There are bright moments, don’t get me wrong. Clare Kneebone, playing Jon’s girlfriend, Susan, (and a few other parts) is a wonderful singer who really nails it. Director Jillian Locklear Bauersfeld, curiously, seems to hold her back just a little at the beginning, but “Come to Your Senses”, where Kneeebone performs as Karessa, a character in Jon’s composition, is shining. She really sings for him, and it was the only time of the night I felt that goose-bumpy, spine-shivering sensation of a really good singer hitting all the right notes, both emotionally and otherwise. She’s great in her other roles, too, I liked a funny bit where she gets a little carried away with the pit bassist (Greg Bell). Speaking of the pit for just a sec, the band, under the direction of Michael Tan, was a lovely surprise [Pandora’s first time reviewing at Spots.-TBO]. They sounded really profesh, and, when it became clear that they were a little loud at the onset, they tuned down and we could hear the actors just fine. Rob Wall pops up as Michael, an actor from Jon’s past who has moved on to more lucrative pursuits, and, again, some other smallish parts. Wall cuts a sharp figure in that suit and offers moments of amusement (I liked Rosa, the agent).
TBH, the set (Alan Zemla) doesn’t radically change at Spotlighters – it’s hard to keep re-imagining a small space in the round (And, so, I am delighted that they are moving forward with the possibility of a new space at the former Read’s drugstore on Howard and Lexington streets. I am rooting for y’all). The best use of the limited staging was six black boxes, standing in for everything from cars to convenience store counters. The boxes offer both levels and clever storage for a myriad of props, though at one point I felt a little bad for stage manager Lanoree Blake, the person who has to figure out what goes in what box and sort it all out at the end of the night. Lighting from Fuzz Roark was nice, I liked the spotlights on internal monologues and full sets otherwise, with some fun disco ball action here and there.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Tick Tick BOOM! is a welcome distraction from Fox News, sure, but falls a little flat. There’s a standout performance from Clare Kneebone, a great band, and some twinkles of late-twenties malaise-based comedy, but as for the rest, BYOA (Bring Your Own Anxiety, it shouldn’t be hard). With a fairly uncharismatic lead character and a weirdly thin plot, there’s just not enough substance here to lock it down for me.
Running at Spotlighters through July 31st.
Email Pandora Locks at email@example.com
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