Adapted by Michael Scholar Jr. from the book by Michael Turner, film by Bruce McDonald, and screenplay by Noel S. Baker. A November Theatre, Theatre Network, Touchstone Theatre, and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival presentation. At the Rickshaw Theatre on Friday, January 28. Continues until February 6
The most bad-ass moment when I saw Hard Core Logo: LIVE came at intermission, when my girlfriend hit me up for cash so she could buy my underage daughter a beer. Now that’s punk rock.
Sadly, it was also the most comical and transgressive action of the entire night.
If you squint hard enough, it might be possible to see this collision of two stale-dated styles—punk and musical theatre—as an innovative fusion. No doubt beer goggles would aid that perspective, and quite a few people in Friday’s well-lubricated crowd were moved to give the show a standing ovation. From a more sober viewpoint, however, Hard Core Logo: LIVE embodies the worst aspects of the two idioms: it condescends to its audience while revelling in banality.
Let’s start at the top. Director Bradley Moss made the fatal decision of letting writer Michael Scholar Jr. take on the starring role of Joe Dick, leader of the rapidly aging quartet Hard Core Logo. He’s conned his fellow musicians Pipefitter (Toby Berner), John Oxenberger (Clinton Carew), and Billy Tallent (Telly James) into reforming for a Prairie tour, which quickly unravels; by the end, with the money gone and his lifelong friendship with Tallent in tatters, Dick sees no option but to stick a pistol in his mouth and pull the trigger.
Fair enough. Anyone who’s ever played an Edmonton rock club will sympathize. The problem is that Scholar’s clearly having such a blast living out his lifelong ambition of being a punk-rock singer that none of this is believable. We’re supposed to be witnessing tragedy—or tragicomedy, at the very least—but instead we get live karaoke, with Scholar hogging the mike.
But his showboating is only one of a multitude of ills besetting this production, on both the practical and conceptual levels. Joe “Shithead” Keithley’s score, as played by the actors, sounds more like lame hard rock than punk; as my esteemed colleague Amphetamine Headbone might have said back in the day, it’s neither loud enough nor fast enough. And then there’s the simple fact that punk rock is not, as a musical form, all that interesting. What makes it fly is its social context: what it’s saying and the milieu in which it’s created. Theatricalizing the punk experience runs the risk of removing the audience’s energy from the equation, and that’s what happens here: Hard Core Logo: LIVE offers a dull simulacrum of punk life rather than an opportunity to engage with its tribal pulse.
Like the book and movie that preceded it, Hard Core Logo: LIVE does capture at least some of the grim humour of life on the road. Clinton Carew is winning in his depiction of gentle-giant bassist Oxenberger, even though his pop-eyed descent into schizophrenia is written as a series of jokes and clichés. Rachael Johnston is effective in a variety of small parts, most notably as Nardwuar the Human Serviette and acid-gobbling rock dropout Bucky Haight. Toby Berner’s a pretty good drummer, for an actor.
And with that, I’ve run out of nice things to say.