Punks That Rock, Plot that Panders: “Rooms, A Rock Romance”

Photo Credit: Kevin Hadfield for Bad Habit Productions. Kicking ass/Taking names.

presented by Bad Habit Productions
music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman
book by Paul Scott Goodman and Miriam Gordon
directed by Daniel Morris
arrangements and orchestrations by Jesse Vargas

The production is in memory of Terri Meilus.

reviewed on August 22, 2013
August 10 – 25, 2013
Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
Boston, MA
Bad Habit on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

(Boston) Rooms: A Rock Romance is a contemporary rock musical dressed in vintage clothing. It has Folk, New Wave and Pop Rock influences. It sounds like the love child of John Cameron Mitchell and Jonathan Larson if Joni Mitchell was the surrogate and they all lived in Glasgow. It has a rich score well worth a listen.Monica P. Miller (Ashley Korolewski) is an upright young woman suffering from anorexia determined to build a music career for herself come Hell or Shabbat dinner. Ian Wallace (Michael Levesque) is a diamond in the rough from the wrong side of the tracks suffering from social anxiety which he medicates with alcohol. The only characters in this musical, they communicate through misunderstandings as they travel from Scotland to NYC.

Castmates Ashley Korolewski and Michael Levesque play love interests. They are engaged to be married in real life as well (congrats, you crazy kids!). Love is just lovely but the personal relationship of Korolewski and Levesque is literally none of my business. Their performances are. With that in mind, I continue…

Korolewski has a voice reminiscent of Heart’s Ann Wilson and a face that’s flexible like putty. Levesque has excellent diction and maintains a consistent Scottish brogue. The music fits their voices like a glove. The couple does not allow their offstage history to hinder their onstage romance. They realistically play the awkward hilarity of characters who long to fall in love but don’t know how. Their performances are exemplary and give lift to a story that falls flat.

Writers Goodman and Gordon paint Monica as a “strong” female and Ian as a suffering artist. Monica might be “strong” in comparison to Ian but, when removed of its sass, her character is yet another flimsy caricature of what women represent to men. Monica exists solely as a springboard for Ian’s journey. Her character sticks around so Ian has someone to react to.

Ian gets to be a three dimensional anti-hero with problems that get solved. For example, Ian suffers from alcoholism. He gets an entire scene in which to get clean. Monica’s anorexia is explained away as something she “doesn’t do anymore.” Writing such as this indicates a lack of empathy from Goodman and Gordon. Anorexia is an eating disorder that doesn’t just go away. Saying that it does is disrespectful to the large community of men and women who live to suffer through it.

Later, Monica discovers that “she’s late.” Rather than take a more insightful approach and explore Monica’s choices, the writers skim over her situation and concentrate on Ian’s reaction to her choice. The musical ends in nauseating cliche that exposes more about Ian’s heroic recovery than it does Monica. The ending disappoints even as the music highlights the pinnacle of the couple’s reunion.

The issue isn’t that a woman wouldn’t react as Monica does in the musical. The issue is that the story doesn’t flesh out Monica the way it does Ian. One could argue that a musical isn’t supposed to be realistic (implying that it doesn’t matter if Monica is two dimensional). If that’s true, then one can counter argue that if musicals aren’t based in reality then why bother spending so much time on Ian’s character at all. If a writer wants to explore romantic relationships based in reality then he should allow his characters to fall in love with real people and not half-ass attempts at real people. This musical for 2 actors and a band (who totally kicked ass, by the by) is two hours long. In two hours it is entirely possible to devote some time to Monica’s autonomic character development. It’s the least a writer/composer could do if they plan to accommodate actors as talented as Ashley Korolewski and Michael Levesque.

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