Playwright/actor/songwriter Grant James Vargas plays a self loathing lead singer for a rock band in his new musical, 33 to Nothing, being presented as the first offering of the Wild Project in their sleekly renovated East Village Theater, formerly known as the Bottle Factory. 33 to Nothing chronicles a band’s turbulent rehearsal as they prepare for what will ultimately be their final gig. Although the evening often works as clever entertainment, especially the group’s performance of the songs, the concept seems to exist merely as an excuse to showcase the Vargas music and market the CD. Incidentally, Vargas wrote all the songs, except “Lost to Me,” which he co-wrote with John Good and Preston Clark.
The one act play about the struggling band’s breakup is set in a grungy NYC studio and takes place during a booze fueled rehearsal, where resentments and recriminations appear to be the order of the day. Vargas plays Gray, a balding 36 year old alcoholic, who wrote most of the group’s songs about his bust up with Bri (Preston Clark), a member of the band. Grey, still in love with his former boyfriend, is having a hard time moving on and finds it impossible to accept the reality that after all their years together, he may be the only one of the group to take their music seriously. When he learns by way of a telephone call that his ill mother has passed away, his self destructive flight is thrown into high gear and he bitterly lashes out at everyone.
Although the script feels self indulgent, much of the dialogue is quite clever, especially some smart banter about gay rock musicians, but the play doesn’t work structurally. The tale unfolds in confrontational snippets of exposition in between the musical numbers and unfortunately is little more than a maudlin display of self pitying outbursts by Grey, the only character that appears fully developed. The other band members are Alex (Amanda Gruss), the secretly pregnant female bassist, her husband Tyler (John Good), and the band’s dim drummer, Barry (Ken Forman). Their attempts to defend themselves with their own self righteous behavior in hopes of enlightening Grey to the errors of his way falls on deaf ears, and little that happens gives us reason to care much for any of them. Instead, we patiently wait for the next song.
The evening directed by Randal Myer lacks tension as none of the performers, with the exception of Vargas, has a clue how to build an inner life. They have been directed to give naturalistic performances that feel postured and inorganic. When Vargas is ranting, they stand around stiffly waiting to respond, and their retorts feel demonstrated as opposed to being lived in. They are excellent musicians but not really actors, and this may be the crux of the problem. As a result Myer’s staging is static with the actors moving on cue like marionettes giving a tedious imitation of life..
The music is rather good in a Coldplay kind of way coming on like an unexpected jolt of adrenalin. The band’s all out performance is an internal spark of dramatically charged combustion that bursts to the surface, but the songs with their soulful Vargas’ lyrics begin to take on a similar feel. My advice is check out 33toNothing.com on the web for a sample of the music. Decide for yourself. If you like their sound it’s worth a trip downtown to hear an excellent live band in an urban hip theater.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
33 to Nothing opened at the Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street between A and B on July 23, 2007. Tickets are available at by calling 212-352-3101.