How to Listen to Rock ‘n’ Roll in a Theater

How to Listen to Rock ‘n’ Roll in a Theater

Mr. Jensen’s Bangs is a shaggy, complicated, likable man who tries to confront the dark side of the music he loves, and the real Bangs remains relevant too — he chugged cough syrup and his The show suggests that Bangs’s approach — his immersive writing style anticipated the current passion for the all-sharing I — was fueled by his desire to make music, not just chronicle it. But over all the portrait does not coalesce into much of a point.

More energetic staging might have helped pull us into Bangs’s world. After he praises a Troggs song for “blasting you through the wall, out across the rooftops, straight outta your box into perfect release in a troposphering limbo of blizzardnoise at last,” he plays the track, but at a meek 3 instead of the necessary “Spinal Tap” 11. That scratch that does not soothe the rock ’n’ roll itch.


Cast members appear on a set depicting the mezzanine at a famed rock concert in “The Hendrix Project.”

Nicolas Savignano

At least the BRIC House theater’s sound system delivers the necessary volume at “The Hendrix Project.” But then unlike the wordy “Rock Critic,” this show tackles the transformative power of music without a single line of dialogue.

Roger Guenveur Smith follows up plays like “A Huey P. Newton Story” and “Rodney King” with another look at an epoch-making African-American man — but this time his subject is offstage, glimpsed only through grainy videos. What we watch is a dozen 20-somethings who, in turn, are watching Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1969. The cast members look down at the audience in a scenic device not unlike the one in Annie Baker’s play “The Flick.”

Perched on the set designer Levi Lack’s rendering of the Fillmore’s mezzanine, the actors are motionless, unsmiling as the music booms around them. This goes on for quite a while. Gradually, they begin to shake off the stillness in Robert Wilson-esque slow motion, still intently staring ahead.

The discrepancy between the deliberate movements and Hendrix’s extroverted guitar freakouts is startling, and part of the achievement of Mr. Smith, who conceived and directed the show: the evocation of an audience’s internal world, as they go from fascinated befuddlement (Hendrix played mostly new material at the Fillmore, as he was introducing his new combo, Band of Gypsys) to euphoria.

Archival footage of Hendrix appears on a screen, flanked by disparate images: war scenes, jellyfish, military parades. These projections are not all that necessary, and the focus remains firmly on the concertgoers, who eventually begin flirting, smoking and drinking; every so often, some slink into the sound booth in the back and canoodle against the window.

Mr. Smith tries to freeze-frame a moment in American history. Some of the concertgoers were likely bound for Vietnam, others were or would be involved in the feminist struggle or the black-liberation movement. Nothing much happens: It’s just some people at a show. But the moment is suffused with both elation and unease: A decade was ending, and less than a year later, Hendrix would be dead.

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