As Punk As It Gets

8 p.m. Fri-Sun
Through Jan 28
$12 general; $9 student, senior
108 Blue Star
You can guess a lot about a play from the pre-show music. For instance, if a play is preceded by several Belle & Sebastian songs, then it’s probably an autobiographical story about a chronically depressed college student and his/her life-changing junior year abroad in Bucharest or Bratislava. If the preamble to your evening’s entertainment consists of half an hour of the “best” of Engelbert Humperdinck then you should run for your life. When I heard Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away,” I suspected that As Filthy As It Gets would live up to its title, but when I heard Bikini Kill’s “Suck My Left One” I knew I was in for a special treat.  

The play follows the career of the fictional punk duo The Methane Sisters from their fiery crash in 1989 to their inevitably triumphant reunion in the present with flashbacks to their initial meeting. It’s all the sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and pathos you could want from Behind the Music, with none of the guilt, because May Joon (Monessa Esquivel) and Ann July (Annele Spector) aren’t real — though by the end of the evening you almost wish they were. Esquivel and Spector have spent a long time developing these characters through Jump-Start’s Electric Performance Lab, which explains the depth of characterization and the detailed back stories, but the end result is lacking in the self-indulgence that usually accompanies this kind of extensive processing. Esquivel’s May is a bundle of nervous energy and Spector’s Ann develops from a wreck to subtle grace, and the play carefully allows us a peek behind their masks, giving us an opportunity to feel something for characters in a way that we wouldn’t if they were F-list celebrities in the real world. By the end of the night I wanted this duo to get back together, though for the life of me I can’t explain why — it certainly isn’t because of their music.

It would have been easy enough to just throw a couple of quirky characters on stage and leave it at that, but As Filthy As It Gets is a superbly constructed play with each scene carefully placed and trimmed down perfectly — nothing too long, nothing too short, nothing out of place — while maintaining the vibrant spontaneity of a live performance.

In fact, hidden in the punk performance and improvisational feel is a well-written play. Director Steve Bailey makes great use of the space and seamlessly combines the live action with filmed segments that really steal the show, featuring some brilliant supporting performances. My favorite was the faux music video in which the Methane Sisters are chased by a cucumber — by far the most hilarious vegetable-chasing-a-woman video I’ve seen in ages.

It should go without saying that if you’re easily offended by coarse and vulgar language, crude behavior, and nearly constant references to drugs, alcohol, sex, and Judy Garland, you may not enjoy this play, but As Filthy As It Gets easily could have been much more egregiously filthy and isn’t as shocking as it might have been if it had been given a deceptive title like Bubblegum and Butterflies. There will certainly be people who will be turned off by the language and subject matter, but they will be missing out on fascinating characters, a good play, and some atrociously amusing pun-rock train-wreck spectacle.

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