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Stomp and Shout ('an Work it all Out)

It's difficult to determine what James Carmichael's new play about the FBI investigation into the 1963 recording of "Louie Louie" is really about. logo
Frank Rodriguez and Katrina Foy in
Stomp and Shout ('an Work it all Out)
(© Rachel Roberts)
There's amusing poetry in the fact that a producing company calling itself Babel Theatre Project is presenting James Carmichael's // and Shout (an' Work it All Out), at the 45th Street Theatre, a new play play about "Louie Louie," the controversial 1963 recording by the Kingsmen that was delivered so unintelligibly by the lead singer that rumors about the ditty's obscene lyrics quickly snowballed among the country's teens. What's unfortunately the case is that while every word in the play is understandable -- especially as delivered by an industrious 12-member cast -- it's still difficult to figure out what in blazes the playwright is trying to say.

In the foreground of this confused (and occasionally inaccurate) work -- which is "loosely based" on the public record -- is an FBI investigation into "Louie Louie" conducted by agents Chris Oxley (Jeremy Schwartz) and Ray Rasco (Frank Rodriguez). But Carmichael, apparently wanting to make other critical comments about the politically nervous 1960s, lards in a subsidiary story involving University of Indiana informant Ray Chess (William Jackson Harper), who's simultaneously attempting to organize SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and SDS (Students for Democratic Society) on-campus chapters.

Through some authorial contriving Chess becomes involved with Cuban-born Rasco's 16-year-old daughter Cristy (Katrina Foy), a young girl unhappy at home because her dad can't bring himself to discuss the death of his wife and her mother. Meanwhile, Oxley, an alcoholic on a compulsive mission, needs to bring in some kind of incriminating evidence about the actual "Louie Louie" lyrics, but can't find anything no matter how hard he leans on people like upright Indiana-based assistant United States attorney Lester Irvin (Joseph C. Sullivan).

While it's possible for a play to sprawl effectively -- as, for instance, Tony Kushner's two-part Angels in America triumphantly does -- there has to be some inkling of an organizing structure. That sense is missing here. It's replaced by Carmichael's being so impelled to rail at misplaced values in an intolerant American society that he loses sight of script-writing obligations. Most pressing is the need to avoid extraneous scenes, such as, citing only one of many, an attenuated SNCC organizing meeting. Too often Carmichael gets going in one direction and suddenly veers off in another, leaving the viewer puzzled as to what the focal story is. It's even possible for a viewer to wonder if what's on offer here is really a sly allegory about the current administration's pushing to substantiate the existence of Iraq WMDs in the face of all studies declaring otherwise.

Curiously, there are three second-act scenes hinting at a dark comedy that could be extracted from Carmichael's catchall work, which each concern figures Oxley and Rasco interview in their determination to find indictable culprits. The first interviewee is record executive Marvin Schlachter (Khris Lewin), whose Wand label distributed the offending disk; the second is Richard Berry (Brian D. Coats), who wrote the hit song and tells his inquisitors he avoids obscene lyrics because "I don't like 'em"; and the third is a mentally disturbed Portland, Oregon man called Jack (Andrew Zimmerman), whom the agents mistakenly think was the Kingsmen lead singer at the recording session.

The evidence available in these vignettes has nothing to do with the purported obscenity of the lyrics but everything to do with Carmichael's potential to write scenes with dialogue that is not only biting but comic. During these segments, the acting takes on a tang it has lacked. Specifically, Lewin alone goes a long way towards redeeming the play's deficiencies -- as do the corrosive lines Carmichael supplies him.

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