The Man Who Was Too Loud
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Kate X Messer, Fri., Oct. 3, 2003
'The Man Who Was Too Loud': The Man Who Was Too Josh
Penn Field, through Oct. 4; Club DeVille, Oct. 8
Running Time: 1 hr., 45 min.
Were Josh Frank's experience with and feelings for Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, suburban savants responsible for turning a generation of subculture toward the eventual path to punk rock, anywhere near as deep as his ability to ape the singer's distinct runny-nosed dialect, we might be privy to the birth of an astonishing Austin rock-opera. Unfortunately, Mr. Frank's The Man Who Was Too Loud smacks of a vain attempt at cool.
If, for example, you discovered Jonathan Richman six months ago while rifling through a hotel's record collection (as Frank explains in the play's program that he did), then you might feel a tad less than qualified to tackle a topic treasured by so many and so new/mystifying to you. But Frank couldn't resist. Well, that's sort of like telling everyone you're a Buddhist monk after wading through Zen for Dummies. When it comes to an artist as sincere and real as Richman and a record as important as his groundbreaking The Modern Lovers (upon which much of the text of TMWWTL relies), there is no room for dilettantes.
Sadly, Frank plays Richman as an over-analytical, almost nebbishy Woody Allen-type -- not the elegant bandleader and dancing showman that fans have come to know and love. Admittedly, his play attempts to portray Richman's early years, but even the wide-eyed, goofy-grinning JoJo is AWOL from this performance.
It makes sense that the uninitiated might conceitedly relate Richman's persona to their own "everyday guy" shortcomings and flat line the nuances of his personality. We do that to our idols. Fandom is not a glorious thing, after all. It's kind of weird. It's kind of poignant. It's kind of unhealthy. Beneath our impressions of Jonathan Richman, however, exists a real Jonathan Richman -- and he is the very person missing from this play.
What is present in this play is his music. "Not the Modern Lovers," the play's house band and cast, made up of local rock dudes from Stinky del Negro, Summer Breeze, Free Range Bastards, et al. (see Music Recommended, p.86), is fantastic. More good news? Frank's vocal impersonation of Richman is spirited and sincere and just about spot-on during the life-saving music breaks, which fortunately make up most of the show. "Roadrunner" is a stunner, total abandon.
Despite this being a theatrical performance and considering its limited run, if you have an affection for this music, the music alone is worth the liberties taken with Richman. If Frank and Co. have their wits about them, however, they will either pare the show down to a rock revue and lose all the pontificating and unlikely dialogue and just go out and tour as a Modern Lovers cover band. Or they could do a lot more research, open themselves to the challenge, and rewrite about half this play. That would rock.