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Chicago by John Olson

Aftermath
Signal Ensemble Theatre
The Raven Theatre Building

Guest Reviewer: Richard Green

Aftermath
Aaron Snook, Vincent Lonergan and Nick Vidal
You don't have to be a fan of the Rolling Stones to enjoy this world premiere, featuring Nick Vidal as the unstoppable Mick Jagger and Aaron Snook as (the tragically stoppable) band mate Brian Jones. The infectious beat of their well-known songs, and the obvious camaraderie of the actors on stage would still make Aftermath a great topic for dramatic investigation, even if its subjects were not world-famous performers. Jones died after a widening rift with Jagger, and the play (written and directed by Ronan Marra) peels off layers of youthful angst and combativeness, to reveal at least one troubled artistic genius underneath. Whether or not the other artist (Mr. Jagger) is a genius, or merely a clever marketer of the R&B/R&R hybrid, takes rather less time to unravel in this treatment.

Nevertheless, it's delightful to watch Mr. Vidal (as Mick) swagger and sneer his way through some of the band's early years (from 1966 to 1969). The actor's singing tends to be flat or monotone (this may have simply been vocal exhaustion after the usual rehearsal process), but like everyone else on stage, he's lots of fun, and smoldering with conviction, giving us a glimpse of Mr. Jagger long before he became the frightening skeleton we know today. Likewise, Joseph Stearns is almost ludicrously baby-faced as a younger version of the now-ghoulish Keith Richards (Wikipedia says the real-life singer/composer drank a bottle of Jack Daniels every morning for breakfast in the 1960s, before graduating to heroin). And Bries Vannon (as drummer Charlie Watts) draws knowing, steady laughter with his frequent, dour predictions that he'll soon leave the band.

Simone Roos is magnificent as Anita Pallenberg, starting out as the love interest of Mr. Jones. On the actual Pallenberg fan website, she generally wears heavy eyeliner in most of her 1960s photos, and I wish Ms. Roos had done the same here. But she captures so much of the confidence and power of a brainy fashion model that she does just fine without those raccoon eyes.

In spite of the obvious pain of Brian Jones' clashes with Mick Jagger (over control of the group's direction) writer/director Marra finds ample humor in the course of events. Mr. Stearns (as Keith Richards), for example, is hilarious during a promotional tour, on an American talk show with Vincent Lonergan and Philip Winston as the TV host and sidekick. Elsewhere, the two older men are first-class as dueling barristers in a drug trial centering on Mr. Jones.

Perhaps the most gratifying performance of the night comes from Andrew Yearick, as a kindhearted George Harrison, musing with Jones over a sitar and his fate as the Stones move ahead without him. I don't know why, exactly, Mr. Yearick chokes me up whenever he comes on as the soft-spoken, affable Beatle. And it happens every time, with his lanky frame and Liverpool drawl. Yet, as strong as his performance undeniably is, and as strong as Ms. Roos is as the brainy fashion model, the actors playing the Stones themselves conquer all with their bravura musical performances on stage.

I could take it for granted that they all play so well, or that Mr. Snook leads us up on to a chilling precipice before taking unexpected flight in the show's afterword. But I don't know of any actors who'd pass for these real-life characters, who could also play and sing as well, outside (perhaps) of a Broadway production or a major motion-picture. So, thanks to all concerned, Aftermath rises well above either tabloid-inspired soap opera, or mere tribute band, thrilling us with grinding beats—and, yes, even the occasional chicken strut, as well.

Songs include Paint it Black, Lady Jane, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Sympathy for the Devil, Norwegian Wood and Satisfaction. A few minor complaints: the initial documentary-style footage was largely inaudible the night I went; and between Lady Jane and a pivotal scene between the two lovers, the story seems to lag considerably. Otherwise Aftermath is a very enjoyable show.

Through June 6, 2010 at the Raven Theatre at North Clark and Granville, about 1/2rd mile west of the Red Line's Granville stop. The theater also has a modest parking lot on the south-side of the building. For information on the show call the Signal Ensemble Theatre at (773) 347-1350 or visit them online at www.signalensemble.com.

Cast
Bill: Nathan Drackett
Ensemble: Vincent Lonergan
Anita: Simone Roos
Brian: Aaron Snook
Keith: Joseph Stearns
Charlie: Bries Vannon
Mick: Nick Vidal
Ensemble: Philip Winston
George: Andrew Yearick

Production Staff
Carpenter: Anna Wegerson
Costumes: Elsa Hiltner
Dialects: Elise Kauzlaric
Director: Ronan Marra
Dramaturg: Aaron Snook
Events: Meredith Bell Alvarez
Guest Liaison: Simone Roos
Lights: Mark Hurni
Master Carpenter: Buck Blue
Props: Mary O'Dowd
Media Relations Karin McKie
Set: Melania Lancy
Sound Anthony Ingram
Stage Manager: Stephanie Ehemann
Video: Jack Newell
Violence: Ehren Fournier


Photo: Johnny Knight

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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