Mad Dog Blues: So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star?

Local Arts Reviews


Mad Dog Blues: So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star?

Hyde Park Theatre,

through August 26

Running Time: 2 hrs

Sam Shepard once said, "I don't want to be a playwright, I want to be a rock & roll star," and boy oh boy, ONE Theatre Company's production of his 1972 play Mad Dog Blues proves his intent. It has drugs and rock & roll in spades.

Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression" opens the play -- ironically, it turns out, because neither mania nor depression are anywhere to be found for a good hunk of the play's beginning. This song, described by Hendrix as "ugly times music, so ugly you can feel it," hangs its thundering guitar over the stage like a bare light bulb; when the music stops, the darkness clicks shut around you.

The main action is a search for gold by nine characters, including several pop culture icons such as Marlene Dietrich and Jesse James. At the helm are Yahoodi and Kosmo, two Kerouac cats decked balls-out (well, as balls-out as two angel-headed hipsters could be) in almost cartoon slinkster proportions. (Jason Lehmberg's hairstyle as Kosmo would give Johnny Bravo a run for his money.)

The first act is punctuated by a liberal dose of oblique references to drugs and traveling ("Are you off the needle?" and "It's no fun being on the road"), dotted with the entrances of the femme fatales (Dietrich and Mae West) and Paul Bunyan, Captain Kidd, and Waco Texas (played with an excellent Texas drawl by Wade Williams). Yahoodi is set to make his fortune with a gold mine till he (and everyone else) gets wind of a treasure stashed in a cave on a desert island. By intermission, the traffic on the Hyde Park Theatre stage can be rivaled only by MoPac at 5pm on a Friday afternoon.

During intermission, winded and bleary from all the characters and plot twists, I searched for something, anything in the program to alleviate my confusion. For a director's note, Estevan Zarate uses this from Kerouac's On the Road: "What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -- it's the too huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." Crazy freakin' Beats. Words, words everywhere, but not a help to spare.

In my frustration with the play (as with On the Road when I first read it many moons ago), I had forgotten the basic storyline. Like On the Road, Mad Dog Blues is about two guys taking a trip, and no matter how you dress it up, whether it's of the euphoric persuasion or the globe-trottin' variety, a trip is a trip is a trip. And with any trip, you should love the company you're with. Both Shepard and Kerouac use stream of consciousness -- hit and miss, at best -- filling their respective worlds with misty extrapolations, unable to fill in the chinks of their flawed travel chronicle seeking a magnificent dream. Toward the end of Mad Dog Blues, the question is posed, "What about the mind? Dreams?" But even the most glorious dream can be forgotten while you brush your teeth.

ONE Theatre Company brings its own unique touches to Mad Dog Blues -- unfettered strings accompanying characters' songs and Tashya Valdevit's portrayal of Mae West -- but ultimately, Shepard's play is the portrait of a playwright living out his rock star phase. Though not as embarrassing as being caught by your parents singing and dancing with your bedroom mirror, it's self-indulgent nevertheless.

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Mad Dog Blues, Sam Shepard, ONE Theatre Company, Jason Lehmberg, Wade Williams, Tashya Valdevit

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