33 to Nothing’s speakers go up to 11 | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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33 to Nothing’s speakers go up to 11

Grant James Varjas's new play is a band rehearsal in real time—and it gets really loud.


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Grant James Varjas's 33 to Nothing begins with a warning: This is a show about a rock band's real-time rehearsal, and it gets very loud in A Red Orchid's tight space. The production kicks off with an explosion of sound as the musicians immediately get to work before putting each other through intense emotional labor. Complimentary earplugs are provided on each of the seats.

Affectionately described by lead singer Gray (a belligerent, despondent Aaron Holland) as "the gay Fleetwood Mac," this group is falling apart as personal conflicts and dwindling audience numbers put its future in question. Tyrone Phillips's direction captures how years of decaying friendships and bubbling resentments weigh down these bandmates. This comes through most heavily in the relationship between Gray and Bri (Steve Haggard, projecting gentle pity), exes whose flame hasn't been fully extinguished. Amanda Raquel Martinez and Annie Prichard are convincing voices of reason trying to make their escape with minimal heartbreak, and Jeff Kurysz is a refreshing source of positivity as the band's kindhearted, genderfluid drummer.

This play with music features eight original songs written by Varjas with exuberant music direction by John Cicora, and they give the show a concert feel that elevates an otherwise traditional drama about artists in their 30s struggling to hold on to their dreams. It isn't a groundbreaking plot, but this team explores it with a blend of subtlety and verve that highlights the complexity of the characters' relationships with each other and their music.   v

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