The feeling fades, doesn't it: that sensation of discovering a new song and having it perfectly explain everything that's churning in our heart, compelling us to listen to it again and again to relive that immaculate mystery unfolding. The heart gets older, absorbs a few bruises, and makes its accommodation with the world. We can still burn, and chase passion, but the transcendent splendor of the four-minute tune never quite hits us with the same sublime, inexplicable, and sometimes punishing impact.
At least that's one reality brought home by Music Lovers, Alan M. Berks's new play staged by the Workhaus Collective. Cannily revolving around grown-up events and the youthful explosions that preceded them in the lives of three interconnected people, it's a work that begins by sifting through the ruins of youthful idealism. Where it ends up, and where it finds greatest resonance, is in depicting the end of youth as an unfolding full of limitless (if wounded) possibility.
Matters commence here, today, on a Saturday night at First Avenue. Aging rocker Domingo (Randy Reyes) chats up the preoccupied and brittle female named James (Lindsay Marcy). It soon emerges that Domingo's band is due to go on soon, and that their mercurial singer has gone temporarily missing; the news is delivered in maniacal style by the band's manager, Rodney (Skyler Nowinski), who is riding red-hot currents of multiple chemicals and finding it difficult to keep his skeleton from jumping out of his skin.
Workhaus Collective at the Playwrights' Center
through March 27
Domingo and James have a nice rapport going, soon revealing that both are suffering from the after-effects of bad breakups (his recent, hers a decade old). But the prospect of romantic glaciers melting is temporarily derailed with the arrival of lead singer Courtney (Nathan Christopher); when all three characters find themselves in the same place, it becomes apparent that there is history between them. And that it is messy.
Berks is asking us to stretch a bit here and accept that James (who works in the record industry, and who has come to scout the band) believes that two similarly aged genius male singer-songwriters named Courtney occupy the continent (she may have known more than she let on, in which case Marcy, and Berks as director, have failed to properly fold the wrinkle). But once we've digested this twist, things become extraordinarily interesting.
The second act slingshots back a decade to Albuquerque, when our three principals were very different people indeed (except for Courtney, arguably, which is kind of the point). Domingo is calling himself "Butch," hugging everything that isn't nailed down, and generally being one charming fellow. James is startlingly different in her youth, an aspiring painter with deficits in talent and desire (Marcy does soulful work here, a combination of doe-eyed hopefulness and thwarted shittiness that informs her sealed-off, barbed persona when James is a decade older).
The third act brings it all back home, in Domingo's apartment, and while this is the most demanding scene of the night (for the audience), it's also the sequence that gives the work its heft. In our three protagonists' kaleidoscope of perspectives (hinging on the drunken breakdown of act II) on what their lives mean, and why they have lived them as they have, Berks drags them almost kicking and screaming into what it means to be who they are, and what the ineluctable contours of life's changes could mean.
They have to get real, in other words, which means very different things for each. The love, the pain, and the hope that sustained them in earlier life has become something else–and the question is whether than means imbibing old poisons, drifting in outdated blueprints of what once made sense, or having the courage to embrace the possibilities in who they have become.
It's heady, difficult stuff. But no one ever said growing up would be easy.