This is going to be another chapter in my lifelong treatise on Dorks, but a trip to New York City in the middle of a Los Angeles summer can throw the subject into stark relief. We saw a number of great shows in Manhattan this trip, namely Sweeney Todd, Air Guitar and The Further Cuteness of Hank and Lucy.
Except for the latter, a true current of dorkdom, in all its fabulousness, runs through the work. “Sweeney Todd,” which is basically about a barber who kills everyone who comes into his shop, was a revelatory experience: the entire musical was orchestrated by the actors themselves, dragging around cellos, tubas, violins and oboes depending on the song. And this music is no walk in the park – littered with key changes, time-signature craziness, and a touch of opera, it was a tour de force on behalf of everyone in it.
Times may be changing, but I don’t think LA would appreciate the show because it’s a town that doesn’t particularly value its dorks. In order to play Tobias in “Sweeney Todd,” you would need to take violin for at least twenty years, piano for ten, voice lessons for a decade, be an accomplished actor, LOOK like an actor, and then make people cry eight performances a week. That limits your potential cast down to a handful of people, and I guarantee all of them come from attic rooms and basements and vast stretches of childhood without friends.
Across town, “Air Guitar” is a much more complicated play than it would seem. It concerns the story of a schlub named Drew who wants to be a famous solo guitarist, but only comes into his own when he picks up an invisible instrument and starts winning Air Guitar competitions around the country.
What’s fascinating about this show is that Drew is a dork, whiddling around with his own turgid, navel-gazing music in the darkness of his YouTube-like bedroom, and is only accepted when he parrots the adulatory shredding of his alter ego Ulrich and another guy named, of course, Jammin’ Bread.
But there’s several levels of dork going on here: Drew himself, and then the actual band Gods of Fire playing the actual music right behind the actors on stage. Further behind them is my brother Sean himself, lyricist Jordana and playwright Mac, all of whom (I don’t think they’d mind me saying) are dorks themselves, having sacrificed good portions of their upbringing in order to wow you. It’s a meta-meta-experience that was not lost on me, and getting 24 good laughs in was only gravy.
Why do I mention all this? I guess because in an age of irony, an age of parody, of tangential references and constant nostalgia, our generation has done a pretty piss poor job of coming up with something original to say. The fact that hipsters have now fully embraced nerdism in every aspect of culture means that the actual dork is harder and harder to come by. Which is infinitely sad, because they are the ones that will provide the creative fuel to get us through the first half of this century. They will be Lucy’s heroes, they will make her friends laugh, they will write the songs that make the whole world sing.
So I say a HUZZAH to the cast of “Sweeney Todd,” to Sean, Mac and Jordana, to everyone who is still hellbent on creating new work, discontent to rest on laurels, not satisfied with the easy joke or lazy sarcasm. I hope I’m keeping up my end of the bargain too, and may we never grow complacent.
Sean and I pose in front of the Playwright’s Sidewalk plaque in front of the Lucille Lortel Theatre