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Paulanne Simmons

"33 to Nothing" Needs Much More

"33 to Nothing"
Directed by John Good
Bottle Factory Theater
195 East 3rd St., between avenues A & B
Opened March 8, 2006
Wed.-Sat. 8 p.m.
$19-$30 (212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Closes April 8, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons March 4, 2006

It's pretty obvious that Grant James Varjas, who wrote the "play with music" "33 to Nothing"," now at the Bottle Factory Theater for a limited engagement, knows a lot about rock bands. But he doesn't seem to know too much about playwriting.

"33 to Nothing" takes place in a rehearsal studio in Hoboken. It opens with a one-sided, not terribly interesting telephone conversation a member of a rock band has with an unspecified person who it turns out has no other role in the play. This does not bode well for what will follow, and when the rest of the band arrives, the banal conversation that ensues confirm one's worst fears.

It turns out the guy with the cell phone is Gray (Varjas), the sadistic, manipulative and alcoholic front man, who has recently broken up with the band's lead guitarist, Bri (Preston Clarke). The other band members are guitarists Tyler (John Good, who also directs) and his wife Alex (Amanda Gruss), and the drummer, Barry (Ken Forman), whose wife keeps him on a tight leash via cell phone.

Much of the band's conversation revolves around the relative merits of other rock bands, past and present. When they aren't discussing Ono and Bono, they're trying to keep the raging Gray under control and away from Bri, who has found another lover and is trying to get on with his life and forget about Gray's infidelities.

Certainly, the behind-the-scenes talk and interactions chronicled in "33 to Nothing" have the ring of truth, and are occasionally clever, especially for those under twenty-five. But slice-of-life conversation does not make for dramatic dialogue and dysfunctional relationships do not make for a plot.

Fortunately, the play is sprinkled with Varjas's original songs (all played by the actors, who double as musicians) which, if not exactly startlingly innovative, are pleasant enough and spread out so that they don't blend into each other despite their similarity (one of these songs provides the title for the play).

The sad truth is that "33 to Nothing" has all the earmarks of a work of love. And like many works of love, it is filled with self-indulgence and bad choices: Varjas, Good and Gruss have all worked together before, so there's no fresh blood and critical eye here. Clarke is a singer, musician and songwriter making his theatrical debut in a role that demands nothing of him as an actor. Good has been entrusted with the direction of the play, even though he never directed a full-length before and is burdened with a major role in the production. And most obviously, Varjas has cast himself in the central role in a play one suspects is at least partly autobiographical.

Here are the facts according to this reviewer: There is nothing intrinsically noteworthy in the conversation of aging, not too successful rock musicians. Nor is their anything particularly riveting in a failed romance (whether the lovers are gay or straight). When writers and directors become actors in their own play, there's trouble in the making.

"33 to Nothing" is about five characters in search of not an author but a plot. Or at best, it's a psychodrama with music.

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