by Eric Bogosian
Studio 16, 1555 West 7th Ave.
June 22 – July 2

The phrase “sex and drugs and rock & roll” became a kind of mantra in the late 1970s, around the time Ian Dury and the Blockheads recorded the song. It was an anthem for the Me Generation who had left the ‘6os behind to revel in the coke-fuelled hedonism of the new decade, which extended well into the ‘80s. Its soundtrack was hard-driving, guitar-fronted classic rock before it became classically cliched. Its political backdrop was the unbridled capitalism of the Reagan era.

Eric Bogosian wrote and performed his one-man show of that title off-Broadway in 1990. Bogosian’s monologues bring together dyspeptic social satire with characters who suffer something like clinical paranoia, from Talk Radio, made into a film by Oliver Stone, to the revealingly titled Pounding Nails in the Floor with My Forehead.

Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll is actually twelve separate monologues—ten in the production currently playing at Studio 16 with talented Vancouver actor Ben Ayres. Each character is an angry, smug or paranoid male, mostly New Yorkers, living the dream or the American nightmare. They include a few very rich guys, some totally poor guys and couple in between, looking over the brink into the abyss. The mood is dark; the tone darkly, ferociously, disturbingly funny.

In what might be a timely commentary on Live 8, one of the rich guys is a Claptonesque Brit rocker being interviewed about his past drug use. His paean to stoned creativity ends with an inane throwaway warning to kids to just say no, followed by his commitment to help out a remote Brazilian tribe by providing them with civilized necessities like cigarettes.

Bogosian’s winners are all creepily detailed portraits of the smugly un-self-aware, and Ayres does creepy really well. A hotshot young businessman on the phone reveals himself as an amoral monster, then brags, “I’m still committed to my ‘60s idealism.” A fat cat lying by his pool sagely advises, “Take care of the luxuries in life and the necessities will take care of themselves.”

But Bogosian’s edgy writing cuts deepest in his losers. Ayres inhabits those characters with terrific intensity. The street guy with his excremental vision of the world as “a human septic tank.” The black kid in jail rapping out a riff on God the Destroyer. A homeless man’s diet based on how many cans and bottles equal an egg salad sandwich (“The pounds just fly off you!”).

The script dates itself badly sometimes, with a Dan Quayle joke or a stoner’s rant about the new technology of computers and microwaves. But much of Bogosian’s nightmare still seems sadly relevant as we keep on rockin’ in the free world of the new millennium.

Jerry Wasserman
last updated: Friday, June 24, 2005 6:36 PM
website design by Linda Fenton Malloy