‘Undeniable Sound’ is undeniably worth seeing

Henry Greenberg (Jeff Mills) and Lena (Lindsay Stock) in Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Henry Greenberg (Jeff Mills) and Lena (Lindsay Stock) in Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 Stars

 There is so much to like about “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” by Laura Eason at the Raven Theatre in Edgewater. It’s a snapshot of one of the many evolutionary changes that is inevitable in a growing and vibrant city.

Set in the fall of 1992 Hank (Jeff Mills), the owner of a Chicago dive bar, slash, live music venue, is in the autumn of his career in the midst of evolving musical tastes and gentrification that threaten everything he has built.

Hank has two great loves – live music and his twenty-one year old daughter Lena (Lindsay Stock) who grew up above the club and shares her dad’s enthusiasm for music.

Lena is anxious to expand her horizons to include the emerging style of “house,” a genre of electronic dance music of the era created in Chicago that features D.J.’s as the curators of the musical experience.

Her dad is a traditionalist who feels that D.J.’s are not musicians and that electronic music is in opposition to the live music he has championed for twenty-five years.

Thus the conflict is established,. It plays out in the confines of a neighborhood tavern that, like its owner, is definitely showing its wear.

The set design by Jeffrey D. Kmiec and decorated by Lacie Hexom is reminiscent of the many neighborhood watering holes that once dotted the Chicago map from north to south in this working class city.

In the earlier half of the 20th century Chicago boasted 10,000 “shot and a beer” joints. Most have closed or been converted to fern bars and pubs.  Those that survived like Hank’s are loved-to-death by countless elbows, decorated through neglect and illuminated with the ever present twinkling strand or two of Christmas lights.

These establishments retain and reflect a bit of each of the individuals and groups that made this particular venue their social hub, and Hank’s clientele have indeed left their unique mark on this location.

But neighborhoods, music, and people change; and we are all forced to face the changes that are an inevitable part of growing up and growing older. What is undeniable is the here-and-now and the sounds it makes.

Hank has little patience for nostalgia and no stomach for being viewed as a legend. The question is how do you confront the end of an era?

The story involves non-traditional family relationships and various forms of love which in this case includes Hank’s longtime, off-again on-again, salt-of-the-earth girlfriend, Bette (Dana Black), who accepted the role of surrogate mother in the absence of Lena’s birth mother

It is clear the two women have a true affection for each other which was all the more poignant on the Mother’s Day performance I attended.

Jeff Mills in the Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Jeff Mills in the Undeniable Sound of Right Now at Raven Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Stock is spot on and perfectly embodies the role of Lena who is smart, savvy and charismatic. It is no wonder that she is adored by her “parents” as well as the club manager, Toby (Christopher Acevedo), the landlord’s son Joey (Casey Morris),  and Nash (Henry Greenberg) the up-and-coming D.J. each vying in one way or another for her attention.

No doubt casting director Kanome Jones made Director BJ Jones’ life a little easier by providing an outstanding ensemble.

Eason has done a terrific job of juggling a number of ideas yet pulling it all together into one well-crafted unified whole. She understands Hank’s reluctance to turn over the reins and sympathetically advocates for the youthful exuberance of Nash and Lena.

Meanwhile the supporting roles of Bette, Toby, and Joey are fully fleshed characters with their own important contributions to the plot. Her dialogue is authentic and at times emotional without becoming saccharine.

When I don’t know much about a play I try to keep it that way until I see it. This was surprisingly different than what I expected, thinking it was going to be more of a jukebox musical.

It does have some recorded music as background as well as a few short riffs and verses admirably played on guitar by Mills – choices of sound designer Lindsay Jones. Music is integral to the story but it is not a musical.

If you are afraid that the indie music rock scene is not a genre you understand or enjoy do not let this dissuade you. The theme of the story is universal and the musical references are incidental. This can be any time period and any inter-generational conflict.

I predict this production will be deemed Jeff worthy with special recognition of Lindsay Stock and maybe BJ Jones and Kmiec as well.

Don’t miss this one. If you have experience with an aging business owner, a music maker, or someone affected by change that they feared or were reluctant to face this will likely resonate with you.

DETAILS: “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” is at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago through June 16, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and information call (773) 338-2177 and visit raventheatre.com.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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