Music and mayhem
The Blue Room’s take on the Sex Pistols story nails the tragedy of Sid and Nancy
A night at the theater watching a tragic love story rarely involves toe-licking, heroin, heavy distortion and an open invitation for theatergoers to hurl beer cans at the players, but that’s exactly what’s happening during the Blue Room’s production of Sid and Nancy: Love Kills.
Then again, the backdrop and soundtrack for most ill-fated romances aren’t provided by The Sex Pistols, Britain’s pre-eminent ’70s punk band. The play is based on the 1986 cult film by Alex Cox and adapted exclusively for the Blue Room stage by writer Zeda Samuel and director Martin Chavira. The story is brought to life as a multimedia extravaganza featuring live music, video and audio excerpts of the real couple and a who’s who of local actors and musicians, and follows the star-crossed pair from their fateful meeting to the tragic end.
Murri Lazaroff-Babin, affecting a passable cockney accent, brings the multifaceted Sid Vicious to the stage well. At face value, he’s a mumbling, bumbling borderline sociopath dragged (and drugged) through life by those around him—wiser friend and bandmate Johnny Rotten, Pistols impresario Malcolm McLaren and, most devastatingly, junkie lover and part-time prostitute Nancy Spungen.
But Lazaroff-Babin also manages to capture Sid’s softer side, a childlike innocence coupled with a natural charisma and humor that shine through in all but his darkest moments. There’s a reason Vicious—despite lack of musical ability and a relatively short time in the limelight—endures in the hearts and minds of fans, and Lazaroff-Babin captures that special something.
Samantha Perry as Spungen has even more of a challenge: at once the heroine and the villain, Nancy is loud, crass, selfish and there’s no borderline to her psychosis. In a nutshell, she’s a succubus in a short leather skirt who drags her boy into an abyss of drug abuse and rock-star pretense that ultimately destroys them both.
Perry answers the challenge of humanizing Nancy with great aplomb. Brilliantly mimicking her voice and mannerisms, Perry’s Nancy is a hurricane, an earthquake, a natural disaster with bleached-blonde hair stuffed into ripped fishnets. There’s also a child-like lightness to her, but it’s harder to see through her overwhelming childishness. Perry pulls it off, and even after two hours of her horror-show antics you can’t help but feel sorry for her.
Perry milks the role for all it’s worth, chewing each juicy line and spitting it at the audience with unabashed glee. She’s also quite courageous, doffing her top at the drop of a hat and unselfconsciously rolling around the stage in very little as the title characters fight and fuck their way into oblivion.
As in all things Pistols, poor Steve Jones and Paul Cook are largely overlooked, though it’s through no fault of the players. Johnny Rotten takes a more central role, played here by Jason Lewellyn. Lewellyn’s Rotten succesfully mirrors the real-life Rotten’s relation to Sid: a big brother-type best mate who offsets Sid’s hack-and-slash, destroy all nihilism with intellect and devilish wit. He’s a guided missile; Vicious is napalm.
The most effective tool in capturing the story in all its filth and fury is the use of live music. The line between musicians and actors is a calculated haze; some of the real musicians lurk offstage while their thespian counterparts act out live performances, and local musicians who’ve likely never considered theater deliver lines. The men behind the music take the stage at the beginning and the end to rile the audience with blazing renditions of Sex Pistols classics.
The line between stage and audience is likewise intangible. Players trip and roll through the audience at times, and at others splatter them with spit, beer and (we hope) fake vomit. During musical performances, attendees are invited to act as they might at a real Pistols show and pelt the players with empty beer cans. During the closing musical number, the stage is filled with cast, crew and audience members dancing and stumbling about. The Blue Room is upping the ante on audience participation closing night (Feb. 20) when the audience is invited to trash the stage with the band.
Altogether, the Blue Room’s stab at Sid and Nancy is a riotous good time and it’s been a long time coming. It’s a mostly true-to-life tragedy of Shakespearean proportions tailor-made for the stage.