Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012

’90s Slacker Musical In Context

Where Exactly does Jonathan Larson’s TICK, TICK…BOOM fit in with other early ‘90’s slacker dramas?

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Last night I saw Soulstice Theatre’s Tick, Tick...BOOM! I hadn’t really prepared myself for what I was going to see, but it was very, very familiar…it was an early ‘90’s slacker drama. Jordan Gwiazdowski, Amber Smith, Josh Perkins and company put together a really good show under the direction of Jillian Smith . . .a full review of the show runs in the next issue of the Shepherd-Express.

The drama felt very, very familiar. This is a strikingly well-rendered look at early '90's Gen X themes that I feel like I've seen before quite often. I wanted to put the musical into perspective with a  few other early ‘90’s slacker dramas. Here’s what I came up with . . . it is by no means a complete listing . . .

Tick, Tick…BOOM! (originally appeared as a rock monologue in New York in 1990)

The protagonist: A promising, young composer named Jon (played by Jordan Gwiazdowski) who must choose between artistic integrity and selling out.

The conflict: Continue struggling to put on under-attended musical workshops for the occasional praise of some legend like Stephen Sondheim or get a job working a high-paying job with his roommate Michael. (played here by Shayne Steliga)

The poignant tragedy of a supporting character: Michael has been diagnosed as being HIV-positive.

Rent (originally appeared Off-Broadway in 1991)

The protagonist: A promising, young filmmaker named Cohen (originally played by Anthony Rapp) who must choose between artistic integrity and selling out.

The conflict: Cohen is trying to make a real statement with his art, but he needs a paycheck, so he’s also looking into commercial work even as the apartment building he is squatting in gets bought out by a young entrepreneur who offers another opportunity to sell-out.

The poignant tragedy of a supporting character: HIV-positive Mimi has difficulty keeping in a decent, constructive relationship with Cohen’s roommate. She nearly dies. Angel Martinez—a young HIV positive drage queen actually does die.



Singles (1992, Cameron Crowe film)

The Protagonists: A man working on a supertrain (Campbell Scott) and a woman working for the Seattle Environmental Council (Kyra Sedgwick) who get romantically entangled.

The conflict: Sedgwick and Scott’s characters are trying to make careers work at very crucial points in their lives while making a tenuous romantic connection. Scott’s character looses the supertrain and subsequently his job. It's an allegory about disparate forces of the generation struggling to come together to clean up some of the mess from previous generations. 

The poignant tragedy of a supporting character: Surprizingly, no HIV here . . . though there IS the issue of whether or not Matt Dillon’s character will ever be able to find happiness with Bridget Fonda’s character . . . not really a tragedy, just a contrast, actually. . .

Senseless Trivia: Crowe was approached with the idea of adapting this film in to a sitcom. He turned down the idea. It was later modified and turned into Friends.



Reality Bites (1994 Ben Stiller Film)

The Protagonist: A promising, young filmmaker named Lelaina (Winona Ryder) who must choose between artistic integrity and selling out.

The conflict: Lelaina is torn between artistic integrity personified by her slacker musician boyfriend (played by Ethan Hawke) and serious professional success personified by a more vacuous hipster TV executive (played by Ben Stiller.)

The poignant tragedy of a supporting character: A roommate of Lelaina’s (played by Janeane Garofalo) turns out not to have HIV . . . but there’s a scare of potential infection illustrated in the film with a trip to the free clinic.



S.F.W. (Jeffrey Levy Film, 1995)

The protagonist: An alienated guy (played by Stephen Dorff) who finds himself suddenly released from a weird proto-reality TV terrorist hostage situation.

The conflict: How exactly to handle inadvertently becoming a celebrity by being himself while still dealing with a world he essentially disdains.

The poignant tragedy of a supporting character: Non-existent. The protagonist is trying to remain connected with the only other survivor of the hostage situation (played by Reese Witherspoon.) If there’s a tragic supporting character, I guess it might be her.

Senseless Trivia: Kurt Cobain evidently saw a rough cut of the film shortly before his suicide. “Kurt really responded to the movie,” said Levy. 

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