Review: Hanrahan Brings 'Sex, Lies, Rock & Roll' Characters to Desperate Life

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

In the 20 plus years since Eric Bogosian first performed “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” in New York—a string of monologues that together tell the story of the downtrodden, the has-beens, and societal renegades—it hasn’t lost any of its relevancy. The mass of men are still leading lives of quiet desperation, even more so now. In the current production playing in the cellar at Herbies, Joe Hanrahan steps into several characters like a second skin and takes the audience on a frequently funny, impactful trip that allows all of us to look at life from a different perspective.

Joe Hanrahan stars in "Sex, Lies, Rock & Roll" Courtesy of The Midnight Company

Joe Hanrahan stars in “Sex, Lies, Rock & Roll”
Courtesy of The Midnight Company

Hanrahan is no stranger to Bogosian’s work, and his familiarity with the style of material benefits him here. Moving easily from one character to the next with the simple addition of a coat or a cigar, Hanrahan transitions from, for example, a homeless bottle collector—“or cans…bottles or cans…doesn’t matter”—to an aging rock star (who, in his own way, is scavenging for nickels and dimes) without missing a beat. The show delves into the hypocrisy of America’s class system and the economic exploitation that keeps the rich and privileged on top and the poor and desperate down. The American dream is more illusion than reality, the play suggests; a mere carrot dangled before the mule-headed populace.

Director Rachel Tibbetts and Hanrahan have created an evening of compelling theater that prods the audience to consider how we ourselves interact in this world that fails so many. Are we even on the side of the divide we think we are? Is it all just a flip of the coin? The cellar at Herbies is a great space for this show; small, intimate, the audience captured in Hanrahan’s magic web, even as the characters are captive in their less-than-enchanted lives.

Hanrahan doesn’t condescend to his characters or make fun of them, but rather portrays each with deep sincerity and a sense of fair play. It would be easy, after all, to make them hollow characters and play them as exaggerated cartoons, but Hanrahan never does. Instead he presents each as a fully-realized human being that we can feel empathy, concern and alarm for. The homeless bottle collector who inhabits the first scene of the evening puts his unwashed finger on it: “Underneath it all,” says the man, ”we’re exactly the same.”

“Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” runs through Sunday, Aug. 17. For tickets and information visit The Midnight Company website.

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