Sixteen years ago, four young New Jerseyans dreamed of a heavy metal stardom that would transport them far away from the Podunk town of Rahway. Then, as these things happen, their lead singer got a too-good-to-resist offer of a solo career and the remaining three were left to pick up the pieces. Now, a decade and a half later one of the the foursome is dead (or at the very least presumed dead), and his surviving bandmates have reunited for his memorial.


No, this isn’t yet another rehashing of The Big Chill or Return Of The Secaucus 7, but rather Marco Ramirez’s highly original Broadsword: A Heavy Metal Play, one which the young playwright could just as easily have subtitled A Supernatural Faustian Thriller.

However you choose to describe it, Broadsword is one humdinger of a play, now being given one humdinger of a West Coast Premiere at the Black Dahlia.

A bravura monolog delivered by a character known only as The Man In White (Armin Shimerman), a sinister fellow who has more than a bit in common with Damn Yankees’ Mr. Applegate, serves as the play’s prologue, after which we meet its protagonists. There’s auto mechanic and Broadsword bass player Vic (Blake Robbins); bartender and former drummer Nicky (Kenneth Allan Williams); rock star wannabe Tony (Tim Venable), the band’s singer who flew the coop; and Becca (Heather Sher), Broadsword’s “biggest fan” and the single mother of a boy who may have more than a passing connection with a member of the band.

The foursome find themselves together again for the first time in sixteen years in the very basement where Broadsword used to practice. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long for old dreams, regrets, and resentments to resurface.

Playwright Ramirez then introduces a fifth character to the underground mix, a mysterious musicologist who introduces himself as Dr. Thorne (Morlan Higgins) and cues the foursome into just what missing-presumed-dead Richie was up to during the years following Tony’s abrupt departure from New Jersey and from Broadsword. As Dr. Thorne explains it, Richie spent the last sixteen years on a black magic search for “certain intervals between the tones. New keys. Undiscovered sounds. Tones between tones,” the very same musical hooks which Richie’s brother Tony has returned to Rahway in search of, tones and keys and sounds which the singer hopes will help him finally achieve rock stardom.

And in the words of the very un-heavy metal Carpenters, Broadsword has “only just begun.”

Though playwright Ramirez hasn’t written a perfect play (it can get a tad too mystical for this reviewer’s tastes and the ending is a bit abrupt), it is nonetheless an exciting one, a work that heralds great things from the 20something Miami-born, Julliard-trained playwright.

If Ramirez hasn’t already seen or made plans to see Broadsword’s West Coast Premiere, he is hereby advised to take train, bus, or plane (or even hitchhike if need be) to L.A.’s teensy-weensy but highly illustrious Black Dahlia Theatre, where director Mark St. Amant has staged a couldn’t-be-better production, one which impresses even before the action has begun.

Kurt Boetcher’s extraordinarily detailed basement set seems to extend back forever in the tunnel that is the Black Dahlia, all the way back from a rock paraphernalia-cluttered “rehearsal space” to a devil-red furnace situated way upstage. It’s a wow of a set that portends terrific things to come.

Performances are all-around electric, beginning with Shimerman’s dazzlingly Mephistophelian Man In White. Williams’ nihilistic Nicky, Robbins’ sweet-natured Vic, Venable’s intense Tony, and Sher’s tough-but-tender Becca are each and every one superb, as is the chameleon-like acting virtuoso that is Higgins, once again vanishing into another man’s skin.

Scenic design prodigy Boetcher, lighting design marvel Leigh Allen, and sound design whiz David B. Marling (here billed simply as Dave) must have had their most fun in ages creating Broadword’s vivid, ever-morphing look and sound. Raquel Barreto’s costumes fit each character to a T. Together, the quartet have put together as exciting an intimate-stage design package as you’ll see this or any year.

Broadsword is produced by Gaalan Michaelson. Steven Barr is technical director, Joel Goldes dialect coach, Thomas Hadju music composer, and Emily Lehrer production stage manager.

Anyone who’s ever badmouthed or belittled Los Angeles theater owes it to him or herself to see Broadsword: A Heavy Metal Play, as does the L.A. Time’s ever-globetrotting Theater Critic. Think New York, Chicago, or any of those other reputed theater towns can do better than this? Think again!

Black Dahlia Theatre, 5453 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
June 30, 2011
Photos: Gaalan Michaelson & Lauren Pasternack

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