Superlative Tooth of Crime pulses with rock energy

By William Chyr

Before I begin this review, I just want to say three quick things about this play: it’s awesome, it’s awesome, it’s awesome!

OK, now I’ll pull myself together. But still, walking out of the theatre after Strawdog’s production of the Midwest premiere of Sam Shepard’s Tooth of Crime (Second Dance), my mouth hung open, my feet stumbled over each other, and the only thought on my mind was how amazing the production was.

An updated version of Shepard’s 1972 play, Tooth of Crime (Second Dance) is set in the future where the world is dominated by, uh, rock ’n’ roll warlords who battle each other with music in “the Game” to gain territory and status. It might help to compare this to Fight Club, except the battlefield is the stage and the weapon of choice is rock music.

The play follows Hoss (Carmine Grisolia), one of the top warlords in the Game, who’s been feeling a little restless lately. Out of nowhere, he receives a challenge from Crow (John Henry Roberts), a gypsy with all the appearance, attitude, and flair of Johnny Rotten in his Sex Pistols days. As they are outsiders in the Game, battles with gypsies do not count. But taking it as a personal confrontation, Hoss takes on the challenge in a battle to the death.

The play, categorically speaking, falls under rock drama. Different from rock operas because the characters aren’t bursting into songs every couple of minutes for no good reason, rock drama is more like a play with songs distributed throughout. Already you can imagine the potential of something like this, and Strawdog certainly goes all out in this production, taking the best elements of everything: the excitement of rock concerts, the energy of night clubs, and the thrill of drama.

I’ll begin with the aesthetic/technical side of the production. The entire space of the 70-seat theatre adheres to the feel of the play. The walls are spray-painted in a fiery pattern of orange and blue, and a six-piece band plays behind cages in three corners of the room. As you enter the theater in anticipation of the show, the band is jamming and you already feel like you’re at a nightclub. Needless to say, the music and sound quality are top-notch.

As for the lights—lighting is one of those things in theater that people don’t usually notice until something has gone terribly wrong. Sure, lights set the mood and make the actors look nice, but usually they’re taken for granted and really underappreciated. The lighting in this production, however, is a spectacle. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the lighting alone is a reason to check out this play. The array of strobe lights and halogen lights, changing color and patterns in dazzling ways, is a visual feast. The lights change to give the feel of different nightclubs and pulse in sync with the various songs. Not only is it the best lighting out of all the plays I’ve seen so far, it is also better than the lighting at all the concerts I’ve been to.

For the academics, this really may not be the best play out there in terms of dramatic elements and character development. But it’s certainly got dramatic tension and a collection of memorable side characters. While it is very hard to choose, my favorite would probably have to be Ruido Ran (James Anthony Zocolli), a DJ decked out in sunglasses and a purple bath robe who dances on and off the stage, speaking in lingo. There’s also the Referee (Brian Amidei), hailing from Nebraska, who comes onstage bursting with discipline and Midwestern values. I was also a really big fan of the three Gothic punks in chains and tattoos who loitered around the sides of the stage and came on to help set the scenes.

Carolyn Klein, who plays Becky, is perfect in her role as Hoss’s sexy counselor. She exudes seduction, and while she seems to be pleasing Hoss, she leaves just a scent of coldness to demonstrate her power. In their respective roles as Hoss and Crow, Grisolia and Roberts kick some serious butt in their performances. In leather pants and kick-ass facial hair, Grisolia portrays Hoss with the vanity and swagger of an experienced rocker. With a torn shirt, duct-taped shoes, and dirty blonde hair, Roberts gives his character an in-your-face style, the very embodiment of nihilism. The final duel—a rap contest between Hoss and Crow—ranks on my list as one of the most intense scenes in dramatic history.

If, by now, the little voice in your head is not telling you to go see this play, I will do you a favor and state it explicitly: Go see this play! It is a must-see. Like I said at the beginning, it is awesome, awesome, and awesome. It takes the best elements of concerts and clubs and mixes them with drama to create a mean formula. It’s a raw and riveting piece, delivered in the true spirit and glory of rock ’n’ roll.