Nick Blaemire in Things to Ruin
(© Lilly Charles)
Nick Blaemire in Things to Ruin
(© Lilly Charles)
Composer Joe Iconis isn't just hot; he's boiling. The bold and prolific musical theater writer had five different shows up and running in the past year, including the critically acclaimed musical triptych Rewrite and the offbeat kids' musical The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks. But Things to Ruin, a revue of his bawdy and profane -- and sometimes very poignant -- songs that has returned for a series of Friday night runs at the Zipper Factory, delivers the most thorough sense of this abundantly gifted young man.

What appeals most to his fans is that there is a no-nonsense directness to Iconis' work. Indeed, Things to Ruin begins with a song that proclaims "I was born this morning and I'm gonna die tonight." But underneath the brittle exterior of this pessimistic view of life, Iconis captures the vulnerabilities and yearnings of his generation while always acknowledging individuality. A duet like "Nerd Love," in which a young dweeb courts a female of the species -- who finally succumbs when he speaks to her in the language of Star Trek -- is special because of its combination of specificity, humor, and ultimate humanity.

Iconis remains in touch with childhood trauma in songs like "Dodge Ball," in which a kid is the last to be chosen for the team, and "Albuquerque Anyway," in which a best friend moves away. Both songs belie the brash exterior attitude of their narrators to touchingly display the pain underneath. As Iconis moves up the age ladder, the poignancy starts to give way to a more hardened and resourceful sense of self. For instance, "Everybody's at the Bar (Without Me)," a song about exclusion and loneliness, eventually turns into a stirring song about self-actualization.

Like most young composers, Iconis generally hits the target more successfully with humor than drama, but he has already become adept at combining the two. His satiric "The War Song" is a bitterly funny take on the absurd yet very real reasons why a young man might join the army; you laugh even as you squirm.

The large cast also gives Iconis' music a real boost, with Nick Blaemire, Katrina Rose Dideriksen, Eric William Morris, Lance Rubin, and Jason "Sweettooth" Williams providing the most impressive contributions. Iconis, himself, is at the piano, center stage and he has his solo moments, as well. But special mention should go to director John Simpkins who has turned this eclectic mix of music into an organic whole with a fluid and energetic sense of style.

Meanwhile, Iconis has set the bar very high for himself by writing a song about his own talent in which he proclaims, "You Never Heard Nothing Like This Shit Before." Some may call it youthful braggadocio; but we suspect he's just telling it like it is.