Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Passing Strange

Given the choice, I think I would prefer water boarding. As a form of torture it doesn’t cause any permanent damage that I’ve heard of, but 10 minutes in Passing Strange is enough to cause hearing loss and profound mental distress. In more than 40 years of theatergoing I have never had a more miserable experience.

Never, ever would an aisle seat have been more desirable. I would have been out of there so fast. Instead I had to endure the BLARING rock music being blasted at us until intermission. I’ve been to painfully bad shows before, but never anything that was so downright physically -- and psychologically -- painful.

The show, with book and lyrics by singer/songwriter Stew, and music by Stew and his longtime musical partner Heidi Rodewald, is about a young black man who leaves the confines of his middle-class life in South Central L.A. on a self-discovery trip to Europe. As a story, it leaves a lot to be desired, although I was so traumatized by the decibel level I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

My friend Mary, who bolted out the door with me, didn’t just object to the musical assault, but this “story” as well. “I had no reason to care for this guy or anyone on stage,” she wrote later in a e-mail. “It was so unoriginal, as I feel I saw most of this in those plays in the Village I used to go to when I was in high school. But even then, they didn't drown out my thinking.”

Passing Strange is enough to drown out anybody’s thinking. Do yourself, and your ears, a favor and pass up Passing Strange.

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