Nobody, not even lead actor/writer Grant James Varjas himself, gets much mileage out of Varjas’ indulgent script to “33 to Nothing.” But narcissism plays a lot better with the backup singers. As a band’s frontman, Varjas deals exclusively in self-loathing, and his band members act as satellites who parrot the kinds of not-quite-clever-enough dialogue you might make up if you lost an argument and were trying to recreate the conversation with a more satisfactory ending. Thank God for the music — just enough of which makes liberal use of Varjas’ potentially commercial talent for hooky guitar licks.
“I don’t know if I want to be in the gay No Doubt,” Tyler (John Good) snarls at his fractious fellow musicians. Tyler’s terror is justified: Gray (Varjas), the group’s alcoholic frontman, sings with increasing frequency about Bri (Preston Clarke), his saintly ex-boyfriend and lead guitarist. Tyler fears that, like so many talented leads, his friend will soon slip into an alienating depression.
On top of all this, Gray’s mother has just died, a fact he keeps to himself with predictably destructive results. Gray is a man in trouble, it seems, and no one is willing to brave the black hole of his insatiably needy personality in order to give him all the attention he feels he deserves.
After a few minutes of these barely-directed shenanigans (helmer Randal Myler appears to have told everyone just to stand there until they enter or exit), something descends on the band in the form of a song called “Now That It’s Over” that is impossible to ignore. The lyrics are about what you’d expect — Britney Spears mad-libs like “I don’t want to do this to you/I don’t wanna break this to you/I’m just trying to live my life” — but Clarke plays a slick, singsong electric guitar riff worthy of Modest Mouse or the Cure.
It would be easy to go on ad infinitum about the depth of laziness it takes to supply a selfish character with a dead mother like one might supply a thief with a getaway car, or to leave it to the vilest character in the show (Tyler’s wife Alex, played by Amanda Gruss) to justly reprimand the hero so he still retains our sympathy. But it’s more gratifying to talk about the songs.
“Now That It’s Over” is the best, but the Coldplay-ish stylings of “Low to the Ground” come in a close second: Varjas’ piano oils the lyrics with just enough melancholy to make the poetic clunkers in the verses hum soothingly through to the chorus.
Here and elsewhere, Clarke and Good provide ’70s-sounding backup vocals that perfectly distinguish the group from its more recent influences. Some might suggest you go buy the CD instead of seeing the show, but, like most performances, the live set easily trumps the recording.
Just think of the play as the opening band you didn’t really come to see.