Joseph Verlezza, Associate New York Critic
The present-day social climate in the theater world has fervently addressed non-traditional casting, gender identity, and diversity as part of an effort to be inclusive and accepting. When a production exhibits a little gender bending, there should be a valid explanation or reasoning behind the decision, whether it be historical, social, or dramatic persuasion. In the case of “Eddie and Dave” penned by Amy Staats and running at Atlantic Stage 2, it seems to be purely for fun, adding a bit of desperately needed humor to the banal script.
The plot follows the rise to fame of the music group Van Halen, with the dramatic arc depending on the sole goal of revealing what led to the fall out between Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth. The assumption is that it had something to do with what happened on stage during their reunion at the MTV awards show. It is told through the eyes of a narrator (the solid and efficient Vanessa Aspillaga), the MTV VJ who organized for the estranged music group to present best artist award. It is no more than a pedestrian tale of sex, drugs and rock and roll pulled from any number of entertainment tabloids. There is no character development and you learn nothing new about the bands development or the devastating break-up.
What puts a new spin on this version of the story is the addition of gender bending where the male parts are played by women and the female parts are played by men. What this accomplishes is no more than turning the story into a satirical spoof. The problem that arises is that it truly is not a satire and it is not funny enough to be a spoof. It only supplies sporadic laughs from a tired audience who is bored with repetitious pseudo guitar riffs and rampant coke snorting. The wonderful mullets created by Cookie Jordan and appropriate costumes designed by Montana Levi Blanco to achieve the cartoonish gender bending, only entertain for the first thirty minutes or so of the ninety-minute show before losing their impact and charm.
The cast does what it can with the material but at times they even seem to wonder what their job really is and why they are telling this story in this peculiar way. Omer Abbas Salem seems to enjoy flaunting his feminine side as Valerie Bertinelli, changing costumes every chance he gets. Playwright Amy Staats portrays the drug addicted guitarist Eddie with too much stability, lacking the drug addict’s mood swings. Adina Verson turns Al into a rehabilitated force of reason that is a bit conservative. The entire cast seems to be having a good time as they move through the antics provided by director Margot Bordelon. The result is somewhat of an overlong television comedy sketch that does not include any music from the legendary rock and roll band Van Halen.
EDDIE AND DAVE
“Eddie and Dave” features Vanessa Aspillaga, Megan Hill, Amy Saats, Omer Abbas Salem, and Adina Verson.
“Eddie and Dave” features scenic design by Reid Thompson, costume design by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, original compositions by Michael Thurber, projections by Shawn Boyle, and casting by Caparelliotis Casting: Lauren Port, CSA.
“Eddie and Dave” runs at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street) through Sunday February 10, 2019. For more information, including performance schedule and ticketing, visit https://atlantictheater.org/.
Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Amy Staats in “Eddie and Dave.” Credit: Ahron R. Foster.