Music Lovers, a Workhaus Collective Production at The Playwrights’ Center

Nathan Christopher, Lindsay Marcy, Randy Reyes in MUSIC LOVERS - Photo by Travis Anderson

There are plenty of things to like about Alan Berks new play Music Lovers (March 12th-28th at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis). The aphorism-laden and witty script will have you leaving the theater comparing memorable lines with your companions, and the music references strewn throughout the play will delight music fans, especially those steeped in Minnesota music history. (Posters and show fliers plastered around the set include ones of Bob Mould, The Hopefuls, and even an old Jayhawks flier from a 7th Street Entry show.) Overall, Music Lovers is a fun piece for a play that takes on issues of artistic integrity and inspiration, friendship, and healing (or not) from past broken relationships.

The three act play starts in the present in Minnesota at an unnamed music club where female record company exec James Jennings (Lindsay Marcy) has come to check out a promising band called Stickleg Buddha. Stickleg Buddha includes two male musicians who….well I won’t give that part away, but trust me, it gets really, really as they say on Facebook, “complicated.” Stickleg Buddha features Domingo (aka Butch,) the bass player, played by the ever-delightful Randy Reyes (and there’s no exception to Reyes’ delightfulness in this show); and singer, songwriter, guitar player and troubled musical genius Courtney, played by Nathan Christopher. In Act II, we’re taken back 10 years to Albuquerque, NM to see how the present complications arose. Act III is a vain attempt at resolution (this may be part of the point), which really only complicates things further.

Partial cabaret-style seating in addition to two sets of risers enables the audience to sit on certain areas of the stage if they so wish. I actually found myself wishing I had sat on the stage as those seats potentially allowed 360 degree viewing of the show, and a good chunk of Act II takes place 90 degrees to either side of 80% of the audience, which makes for a bit of neck craning.

What works in Music Lovers, as I mentioned, is the clever and witty dialogue, most of which is delivered well by the entire cast. Skyler Nowiski, in particular, as Stick Like Buddha’s coked up and hyperactive manager Rodney, is hilarious.

But despite the play’s many moments, it doesn’t really work as a cohesive whole. Good performances and edgy, hip script aside, I think Berks (who directs as well as writes) tries to do too much with this play. It’s talky to the point where halfway through Act II and for most of Act III I found myself wanting the characters to shut up and actually do something. Despite a versatile performance by Lindsay Marcy as James, for example, first as a starry-eyed young artist and then later as a cynical and tough record exec, when her character goes into the bathroom to hide during the final act, I almost wished she would not come back out again.

I understand that some of this play is autobiographical and based on Berks’s life experiences with musician friends (see this Star Trib preview for more on that), but students of human nature know that people seldom succeed in working things out in real life the way these characters attempt to do so in this play. Time, and activities other than endless conversion are the ultimate healer.  In real life or in a play, drawn out conversations hashing and rehashing the same issues over and over is annoying.

Those complaints aside, I still recommend this show for the sheer fun of it alone. The main caveat is that the 2 hour and 40 minute runtime, including the two 10 minute intermissions, might be about 30 minutes too long.

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