Until last Friday, I thought I was the only loud, funny, Jewish Goth who listened to show tunes in New York City. Brilliant playwright Marc Spitz, whose new piece is titled I Wanna Be Adored, proved me wrong. Inspired by the life--or rather the suicide--of Ian Curtis, lead singer of the early '80s Goth band Joy Division, I Wanna Be Adored is a hilarious black comedy with very serious undertones.
As I entered the theater, I had some annoying flashbacks to my own youth. A somber adolescent clad pretentiously in black slips, I hid my original Broadway cast albums for fear of discovery by my too-cool-for-you friends. However, I also remember those days with a great deal of sentimentality. They were a rite of passage, a rebellion--and death was not the ultimate sacrifice, but the ultimate romance. Back in 1985, being Goth stopped traffic. Today, with everyone from Marilyn Manson to Madonna pulling a Goth look, it's hard to remember a time when Goth was the uniform of intelligent, alienated, self-destructive teens trapped in bedrooms without the benefit of the Internet or MTV2. (Now Goth is all Anne Rice and Columbine references.) Spitz evokes the morbid romance of those years with a vicious comic vengeance, tempering his humor with a survivor's retrospective eye. As someone who grew up surrounded by people who actually drank blood and some who, for their own muddled and misguided reasons, actually committed suicide, I found I Wanna Be Adored a poignant, funny, and ironically uplifting show.
The play opens with a short series of scenes that show Curtis and Joy Division's quick and unexpected rise to fame. A self-dubbed "poet of death and despair," Curtis shuns photo shoots, interviews--basically any kind of publicity. When told by a rock journalist that his new LP boasts a potential hit single (the infamous ballad "Love Will Tear Us Apart"), Curtis scoffs. It's clear he would rather die than be a star, yet he knows that if he dies, he will live forever. His bandmates plead with him, his wife desperately tries to reason with him, and his mistress gives him plenty of hot sex to live for, but it's to no avail. Curtis hangs himself at the age of 23 on the eve of Joy Division's first U.S. tour. It is the ultimate act of egotism from a self-centered artist.
This is where the play, and Spitz's brilliant vision, really begin. Simon, a supposed Guardian Angel, meets Curtis in the afterlife and promptly takes him to Purgatory, which is of course located in New York City! There, Curtis meets other tortured "artists": a wheelchair bound Bavarian stripper, an atrocious Borscht Belt insult comic, and three young kids who killed themselves in an effort to emulate Curtis' chosen fate. The proceedings are presided over by a Cabaret-esque MC, Mimmo, played by the wickedly talented Jonathan Lisecki. Lisecki has apparently appeared in all of Spitz's plays, and Spitz has written him a hell of a part here! Lisecki elicits belly laughs with the slightest glance, wink, or roll of the eye.
The acting quality varies, but luckily it ranges from fair to fabulous. In addition to Lisecki's performance, I was very impressed by Jonathan Marc Sherman as Simon, a neurotic, angry, but charming character who is not what he seems to be. John Del Signore is strong and stoic as Curtis; Edelen McWilliams is sympathetic as his estranged wife. Unfortunately, at the performance I attended, Peter Dinklage--best known as the dwarf from the cult film Living in Oblivion--did not play the role of the angry comic Bobby Lemondrops. The play's director, Carlo Vogel, substituted and did an adequate job, although I suspect Dinklage stops the show when he plays the role. Vogel fares better as a director, making every moment in Purgatory count. As the run continues, the timing of other, shakier scenes will surely improve and the cast will do justice to Spitz's comic conceits. Paul Winkler's wonderful sound design and song choices beautifully evoke the era, and the last song of the evening (which I will keep secret) is hysterical!
Make no mistake: This is not just a show for the terminally hip. In fact, in some ways, the less you know about Goth the better. The show could just as easily be about Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, or Kurt Cobain. It's about idols who self-destruct and why we love them--and why they love themselves.
I Wanna Be Adored is neither a linear nor a naturalistic play. It has elements of the Ridiculous Theatre Company, cabaret, and rock'n'roll theater, but ultimately its voice is all its own. This is one of those rare hip, downtown productions that delivers much more than one could ever hope for. See it.
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