'Broadsword' Is Very Entertaining But Could Use Sharpening
Three questions I ask myself when reviewing a play are: 1) Did the play and/or production live up to its goals and/or potential? 2) Would a paying audience member find that their money had been well spent? 3) Did I like it? Some plays fulfill all or none of these criteria; it's the ones that fulfill only a few that are tricky to critique. Marco Ramirez's Broadsword: A Heavy Metal Play, now playing at the Black Dahlia Theatre, gets a positive response for questions 2 & 3--it's funny and well acted with an intriguing plot, and I think most audience members will enjoy it--but I don't think it's reached its full potential yet.
The story begins with a flashback, where a persuasive agent, The Man In White (Armin Shimerman), convinces the lead singer of the small-time heavy metal band Broadsword, Tony (Tim Venable), to abandon the group and hit the big time, which he does. Many years later, Tony returns home to attend an odd event, a funeral without a body. His brother Richie, the band's guitarist, has mysteriously disappeared and is presumed to have committed suicide. Tony meets up in Richie's basement apartment with ex-bandmates Vic (Blake Robbins) and Nicky (Kenneth Allan Williams), and Broadsword’s biggest fan, Becca (Heather Sher). Recriminations fly and nostalgia is indulged until unexpected visitor Dr. Thorne (Morlan Higgins) arrives, who informs them that Richie's disappearance is much stranger than it initially seems.
Venable is fine as Tony, but unfortunately his character as written is the least fleshed-out of the play, just an observer where he should be the protagonist. The idea that he’s experienced fame and fortune and is watching it fade is barely explored, and his relationship with Richie is similarly scant. Robbins skillfully imbues Vic with the quiet resignation of a disappointing life, and Williams offers welcome bursts of humor and energy as the permanently pissed-off Nicky.
Sher gives a touching performance as Becca, whose connection to the band is stronger than suspected. Shimerman’s opening monologue is a thing of callous beauty—a hard bright hook to cull Tony from the herd—and his Act 2 entrance, the red tip of his cigarette glowing in the darkness, doesn’t disappoint. Higgins is slyly funny as the mysterious Dr. Thorne, his frequent polite apologies and jokes concealing a more serious purpose. A story about Thorne’s daughter isn’t very surprising as written, but Higgins delivers it with such muted sorrow that it becomes haunting.
Mark St. Amant’s direction is smoothly paced and deftly changes tone with the twists in the text. Ramirez’s writing is so good and entertaining that one wants it to live up to its promise. Although Act 1 is a terrific buildup, Act 2 slows and ultimately fizzles. The show's current ending is deeply unsatisfying and cheats the audience of any resolution. Perhaps more time spent with the characters might help to make the ending more powerful. Finally, for a play which pronounces itself “heavy metal” in the title, there’s none of it or anything specifically about what it’s like to be in a heavy metal band in the show, nor does anyone onstage ever even play music. Not very metal, dude.
Kurt Boetcher’s incredibly detailed basement set creates a spooky ambience, with its high-set tiny square windows emitting the barest daylight, a profusion of music equipment, junk stored in the rafters and off in the far dark background, glowing an ominous red, a squat boiler lurking amid the shadows in grim hot majesty.
Broadsword: A Heavy Metal Play runs through July 31. Tickets are $25 and are available online or via phone at 1-800-838-3006.