Responding to the suicide of Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain in a now infamous segment on 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney asked, "When the voice of a generation blows his head off, what does that say for the generation?"
Verse Chorus Verse is not only a fantasia on the various conspiracy theories surrounding Cobain's death; this masterful and timely work asks what happens when Generation X, the group most identified with dangerous and rebellious youth culture, gets older.
While the exposition in Verse Chorus Verse comes at you hard and fast -- a rudimentary knowledge of the history and works of Nirvana is recommended, but by no means required -- Colburn lays out his plot with skill, and creates multi-layered characters.
The play follows Polly (Lorraine Rodriquez-Reyes), the subject of Nirvana's eponymous song about a 14-year-old girl who was abducted and raped following a rock concert in Tacoma, now an aging fixture of Seattle's dwindling grunge rock scene. Up-and-coming indie rocker Garrett Leskin (Michael Bryan Hill) is obsessed with Cobain and finding the truth about his death -- since he does not believe it was a suicide -- and therefore also obsessed with Polly.
Also involved in the proceedings are fresh-faced reporter Moira Stanwyck (Kristy Powers), who would love to break the story of the real circumstances of Cobain's death; guitarist Terry Klug (Joshua Coomer), who tries to protect Polly from Garrett and Moira's curiosity; and shock rocker Mason Dwyer (Michael Mallard), who is implicated in Cobain's death as his heroin dealer, and who has his own reasons for wanting the questions to stop.
Rounding out the cast is Gerald Arthur Friend (Forbes March), the man who was convicted of raping Polly. March has a haunting resemblance, in appearance and manner, to Cobain, and as the lines between Friend and Cobain -- as well as fact and fiction -- blur, it becomes increasingly clear that everyone in this story has a different version of the truth.
Under the deft direction of Ricardo Riethmuller, the entire cast (including Singh Birdsong as Sez/The Spirit of Grunge) delivers their performances with convincing gusto. The true standout, however, is Rodriguez-Reyes, whose portrayal of Polly is layered and terrifying, all while dealing with some very difficult material.
Set designer Michael Mallard has canvassed the intimate Cherry Lane space with vintage rock posters, giving the effect of an underground club. Jennie West Alexander's thoughtful costumes add to the ever-present sense of generational conflict, from Polly's drug-riddled baby doll dress to Moira's conservative journalist drag.
Like any good playwright, Colburn offers more questions than he does answers.