8 Tracks (No Disco): Get the Handcuffs
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Ada Calhoun, Fri., Sept. 1, 2000
8 Tracks (No Disco): Get the Handcuffs
Dougherty Arts Center,
through September 2
Running Time: 2 hrs, 45 min
"We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." -- line from the film Magnolia, one of several fine things you could see instead of this play
In this past-dwelling Earth and Sky Acting Co. production, the Seventies are not through with us, and man, what we did to them to deserve this I would like to know. Director, writer, and producer john daniels jr. (all lowercase, and let that be a warning to you) has conjured up the classic rock world of hot chicks, backseat lovin', and sentimental ballads via a spate of endless musical numbers alternating with random, ill-conceived, and interminable poems and skits that bleed preadolescent emotion.
Classic rock does have its merits. Though I was born after the bad moon rose, just before the blissful strains of Eighties pop hit the airwaves, I can still appreciate the ability of The Who, KISS, and Jethro Tull to, as the program's Director's Note states, "make me think, run, or drive my car really fast." Case in point, as the actors were finishing their curtain call and I was sprinting across the Dougherty Arts Center driveway toward my car and then peeling out, I did indeed think, mainly about how I had just lost three hours of my life that I can never, ever get back.
Whatever rocking-out value Seventies music has, here the short skirts and coy struts are far from ZZ Top video caliber, the skits possessing all the erotic and psychic impact of an eighth grade talent show. In one bit called "Smith, James Smith," a man's identity is mistaken, causing women to rope him into an S&M fantasy sequence as the song "Crazy on You" is sung. In another, daniels' young, talented, and unhappy-looking son is dragged out (his father had to call him several times) to lead the cast in a profoundly depressing rendition of "Sugar Mountain."
It doesn't get much sloppier than this, either. In the course of 8 Tracks, microphones were dropped several times (once into a guy's very unbuttoned shirt), lines forgotten, cues missed. The dancers were invariably out of sync. There were many, many seconds of dead air. One scene change went on so long that the audience had time to chat amongst themselves. A girl's shirt fell off onstage, or so my date told me when I asked why everyone had just gasped. I missed the PG-13 moment because I was busy holding my head in my hands, weeping softly.
What is perhaps most audacious, though, about 8 Tracks is its complete dearth of subtlety. To open the show, daniels' insane-man character is sitting on a park bench as the lyric "sit-ting on a park-bench" is sung. He is then dragged away and surrounded by the chorus in white sheets, presumably indicating a lunatic asylum. During "Really like your peaches, wanna shake your tree," a girl stands up on a chair and shakes hers in a guy's face. A woman sings "Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?" to a desparate-seeming character who shakes his head sadly. Throughout the show, a pair of handcuffs is passed from character to character, bringing ill luck each time. At around the two and a half-hour mark, a character explains this by-now-all-too-obvious symbolism as something like "emotional baggage."
As if that weren't enough moralizing, daniels' character ends the show with a lecture: "Make choices based on who you are, not what you want, because what you want today tomorrow could be a thing of the past." Um, could we get the handcuffs back on this guy now? The Earth and Sky Acting Co. is community theatre at its most painstakingly and pretentiously amateurish. 8 Tracks (No Disco) closely resembles what karaoke might be like in hell, the distance between earth and sky approximating the distance between this and good.