AM New York

August 13, 2007
NYC Theatre Review



Is "33 to Nothing" a musical or play with music? More specifically, is it a contemporary rock musical or a play combined with the rehearsal of a rock concert? Consider "Spring Awakening," where the characters of Wedekind's 1891 German teen tragedy suddenly break into emo-rock ballads using hand-held microphones. Or, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," where the troubling life of its title transvestite is meticulously explored not only in dlaogue, but the songs that make up Hedwig's concert.

"33 to Nothing" takes takes place during an alcohol-laced rehearsal of a downtown NYC garage band. Its members, all in their early to mid-30s, are on the verge of breaking up. Gray, the lead singer-songwriter, and Bri, his boyfriend/lead guitarist, have already broken up, leading to an uncomfortable situation for everyone. Meanwhile, the bass guitarist and rhythm guitarist, recently married, are on the verge of moving away to suburban New Jersey.

As in "Spring Awakening" and "Hedwig," the songs in "33 to Nothing" do not propel the plot forward, but rather reinforce character. Unfortunately, though the songs are attractive, they only reflect the emotions of its lead singer and relate only to his recent lost relationship. Since the entire plot could be explained without the aid of the songs, "33 to Nothing" really is more of a drama with songs, or behind-the-scenes look at the making and breaking of a band, rather than an actual musical.

Like the John Doyle revivals of "Sweeney Todd" and "Company," the ensemble cast is capable of playing both characters and instruments. But most impressive would be the performance of Grant James Varjas, also the songwriter of "33 to Nothing," as the lead-singer, who is embittered by the band's eminent breakup, grieving over having lost his boyfriend and suffering from an alcohol overdose. He is also on the verge of being homeless, having been secretly living in the band's soon-to-be-vacated rehearsal garage.

"33 to Nothing" is performed at The Wild Project, a recently renovated Off-Off-Broadway space in Alphabet City formerly known as the Bottle Space. Advertised as the city's first "green" theater, the eco-friendly 99-seat space features recycled glass tiles, bamboo plywood, low flush toilets, rooftop solar panels, energy-efficient glass windows and offers a selection of organic beer and wine.

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