Four Chords And A Gun, about the Ramones and Phil Spector, misfires
FOUR CHORDS AND A GUN by John Ross Bowie (Starvox Entertainment/Corey Ross). At the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay.
FOUR CHORDS AND A GUN by John Ross Bowie (Starvox Entertainment/Corey Ross). At the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Runs to April 28. $39.95-$124.95. 416-973-4000, 4chordsplay.com. See listing. Rating: NN
Hey! Ho! Dont go! Unless youre an obsessive Ramones fan, you wont get much out of Four Chords And A Gun, John Ross Bowies clumsy, undramatic look at a so-called turning point in the 70s punk rock bands career.
In 1979, the sullen, leather-jacketed quartet had released four albums but couldnt crack the top 10 and were tired of playing crappy clubs for little money.
Then, via their record label, they were paired with maverick Beatles and Righteous Brothers producer Phil Spector (Ron Pederson), who invited them to his L.A. mansion and studio to record a new album, End Of The Century.
What happened during that protracted recording session has entered the realm of myth. Takes numbered in the hundreds. Perfectionist Spector would argue over a single note for hours. And apparently the eccentric man who would go on to further notoriety after being convicted of murdering actor Lana Clarkson in 2003 pulled a gun on someone.
All of this sounds like great material for a raucous show about sex, drugs and rock n roll.
For sex, weve got a triangle between lead singer Joey (Justin Goodhand), his girlfriend Linda (Vanessa Smythe) and guitarist Johnny (Cyrus Lane), as well as the complex sexual psychology of bassist Dee Dee (Paolo Santalucia), who reveals in one poignant scene that he isnt gay but would sometimes let men fellate him for money.
For drugs, Joey and Dee Dee pop or sniff anything they can find, and alcoholic drummer Marky (James Smith) often collapses in a drunken stupor.
As for the rock n roll, we dont get to hear enough of it, which is a huge problem. Director Richard Ouzounian cleverly uses snatches of music or bits of video on Nick Blaiss intentionally cluttered, atmospheric set to act as transitions between scenes. But its not until the post-show concert, featuring a variety of talented young musicians, that we get a full-on feel for the Ramones songs.
Even in the tunes four (or fewer) chords, theres a restless energy and anarchic spirit. Obviously these misfits were reacting to the status quo of the day. But writer Bowie never lets us understand how or why the Ramones came up with these songs, and, perhaps more crucially, what Spector saw in them.
The plays chronology is also disorienting. Its hard to know how much time elapses between scenes.
The result is a show with little momentum and without a centre that tries to coast on a single theme: the ironic sentiments of the plays opening song, Were A Happy Family.
Ouzounian gets good work from his cast, especially Pederson, whose Spector is a narcissist whose lines all seem to have quotation marks around them, and Smythe, who sports the most consistent Bronx accent and makes us feel for a character whose motivations, at least in the script, remain unclear.
The most affecting performance, however, comes from Santalucia, who gets to show a charm and a bruised vulnerability not often available to him in his Soulpepper work.
If much of the show leaves you feeling to borrow another Ramones song sedated, the good acting will jolt you awake.