Assistant Spectrum Editor
The opening night of Eric Bogosian’s “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll” at the Firehouse Theatre bought an energetic crowd, rounds of applause and one obnoxious heckler. This unique one-man show features 12 distinct characters reflecting aspects of the rock and roll era. Robert Zukerman’s performance is a force to be reckoned with, to say the least.
The opening character takes the audience by surprise by sloppily meandering down the stairs. This first piece, “Grace of Change,” glimpses into the world of beggars and the homeless, showing us how everyday tragedies can easily, “with just one decision,” reverse anyone’s luck. The piece finishes with an appeal to our heartstrings: “God is watching you when you help someone like me.” What precisely this has to do with rock and roll, no one knows.
The transitions of the show are flawless. A live band pounds out infectious ‘70s chords while a foggy, psychedelic green screen transforms Zukerman between characters. Completely new personalities emerge with the aid of a suitcase, headset, beer can or simple change of shirt or hat.
“Dirt,” in a similar vein, is a rant on the way he sees the world: beginning with a cycle of crap and ending with nothing but trash and garbage. Not all of the characters complained or begged–for some, life was just about having fun. We hear the tale of one man’s last night out in “Stag,” a night saturated with cocaine, girls, booze and one wild trip to McDonald’s. The heckler could not have been more amused with this character.
“Candy” delves into the seedy world of phone sex operators and gives some much needed comic relief after the touching story of “The Bottle Man.” “Rock Law” depicts the red faced, shouting, demanding world of law–where deals are settled with threats, where your wife is on hold on line one and you mistress is on line two.
The post-intermission characters all carry a life-affirming spirit in them. In “Live, Live, Live, Live,” the riches and luxuries of this life are most important, no matter what the debt. We are implored to “get the luxuries, the necessities will take care of themselves.”
A most memorable performance, “Camera on Doe Chameleon,” featured Zukerman with a hand-held camera recording himself on a live feed to onstage screens. His hopes and dreams are captured in close-up shots, which reveal every miniscule detail of emotion that crosses the actor’s face. In this uninhibited piece we are treated to a profoundly talented actor, willing to strip to the bare bones of his characters. Finally, we hear the poor artist named “Chameleon” share his dreams of a rich life: “Just love me and tell me I’m great … and pay me.” This was the one performance that silenced the avid laugher.
The Firehouse Theatre is to be commended for bringing such a unique show to the Richmond audience. It is the acting of Robert Zukerman that is the heartbeat of this production. His vigor and talent cannot be emphasized enough. Director David Benson did an excellent job of effectively transitioning and timing the production, leaving not a single dragging moment. The technical aspects were executed professionally; they truly take you back to the ‘70s.
Those sensitive to profanity or harsh stereotypes might not enjoy this play, but anyone who enjoys a good show with great acting should be ready to let the good times roll.