For those of you who think CBGBs is just a club that showcases your friend-of-a-friends' bands, think again. Until August 28, on Sunday and Monday nights, it is home to Prey for Rock and Roll, Fat Chance Productions' all-girl rock musical that is one of the most honest and enjoyable evenings of theater this side of a smoke-filled room.
Prey for Rock and Roll's venue is only one of the atypical aspects of the piece--right up there with the fact that the playwright/lyricist/lead actress Cheri Lovedog, LA club-scene veteran, hadn't even seen a play until last year or been exposed to even an eight-grade-aspiring-actor level of theater-speak. "Like, 'being off-book,'" says Lovedog, referring to the expression used to signify actors' knowing their lines. "To me, being off-book is being paid under the table. And when they say 'blocking,' I'm thinking football, you know?"
Lovedog doesn't even look like one's image of a forty-something actress--she's hardly a picture of airbrushed pseudo-splendor. Covered with tattoos, inked with deep red lipstick, and sporting dyed-out, greased-through hair, Lovedog appears to be exactly what she is. The only surprise here is her lack of writing experience--certainly not apparent from watching the production, which is tightly crafted, truthfully acted, and full crack-up lines.
Prey for Rock and Roll gives us a glimpse of the tough breaks of the cool-girl band life. It focuses on the members of the all-female band Clam Dandy as they do what band members do: arrive late to rehearsal, bicker about music, smoke, hook up (sometimes with each other), have destructive relationships, and serve as each others' support systems. The latter is especially needed, as Prey focuses in on moments of high-stakes choices and personal tragedies. Quite a lot transpires in the play's two hours, but the show rings true because it came from someone has been there, who is funny and observant, and who had the help--from Fat Chance Productions--to refine her vision.
The brutal but charming two-hour production, with excellent original music, all began with a twenty-minute stand-up piece Lovedog had written about the music business--and a fateful tattoo. Robin Whitehouse, the artistic director of Fat Chance Productions, accompanied her mother to get a tattoo at Lovedog's studio in Santa Cruz. Whitehouse and Lovedog chatted about their jobs, and when Lovedog mentioned she was writing a play, the proverbial one-thing-led-to-another happened. A few months later, Lovedog was out on the East Coast, seeing productions and workshopping her script.
Reed Ridgely, Fat Chance Productions' executive director, recalls, "When we read it, we were like, okay, she's really talented, because the characters were really funny and the dialogue was really funny and the characters were all very distinct... but there was like no story. What we do at Fat Chance Productions is refine emerging playwrights, and we thought [Lovedog] could be a good Fat Chance candidate. She was a perfect Fat Chance candidate." The chance coupling worked, and now Fat Chance Productions are looking to move Lovedog's show to an Off-Broadway venue.
"I'd been in bands my whole life," says Lovedog, "mostly girl-bands, so [initially the play was] just everything about being a girl--tampons and boys and penises. Band practice and the rehearsal space is sort of like this sacred place where you can vent all of your stuff, and it sort of stays there--like a confessional, almost." The challenge, then, was taking it from autobiography and giving the audience "a reason why [they'd] want to sit there and watch it," Lovedog explains. "If it all happened to me, it would be pathetic, and so you sort of assign all the major things in the story to the characters."
The musical deals with such difficult subjects as rape, incest, terminal illness, and suicide, but somehow the audience leaves the theater feeling uplifted. Part of this is due to the everyday-life humor that pervades the piece. In the suicide scene, the person in question finds herself wanting a cigarette, and thinking, "I'm so bored." "If you were going to kill yourself," Lovedog says, in her California punk-girl smoker drawl, "you'd probably be thinking about that bad haircut and random shit, and I thought, that would be really cool [to show]. I thought people would get a kick out of that."
Which is not to say that the suicide scene is handled flippantly (it isn't). But it is Lovedog's attitude that provides the play with its freshness and lack of pretension. "Don't dig down deep in here for some kind of meaning of life," she warns. "It's like, this is what happened to me, this is my story. I just don't want people to think it's going to be this life-altering experience. It's like, two hours: you come out, hear some rock 'n' roll, laugh a little bit, get moved a little, and you know--enjoy it, man." With any luck, audiences will be able to, for months to come.