Plugged: A Rock Opera
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
August 13, 2006
Plugged: A Rock Opera is a one-woman show described in its press materials as a "twisted, heartfelt, rockin' tale," and aspires to be an epic musical journey exploring family dynamics, God, evil incarnate, and assisted suicide. Unfortunately, the only thing that turns out to be epic about Plugged is that it qualifies as an epic waste of time.
From the opening chords (that sound suspiciously ripped off from Eminem's "Lose Yourself") the lights come up on writer-performer Penelope Corrin, playing a grandmother breathing like Darth Vader while slumped in a chair. Rather than singing as one might expect at a rock opera, Grandma speaks gibberish (presumably due to her unidentified ailment) and drags it out for ten minutes, then subsequently launches into a wheezy gibberish aria. Corrin then morphs into a badly stereotyped "English father" impression, and the jokes, if they can be deemed as such, don't land at all. Next she becomes the granddaughter Anna, who is subsequently tricked by the father to come and see Grandma at the hospital one final time. Corrin, described in her press materials as the "funniest woman in Vancouver," hasn't gotten a chuckle out of the audience in 20 minutes, and the subject matter is so grave, it's no wonder why.
A recitative number occurs between the father and Anna where they trade voicemails back and forth, but don't connect. Anna arrives at the hospital, whereupon the father makes an excuse and leaves Anna alone with Grandma hooked up to the breathing machine. She babbles incoherently about "obey god" and "you evil eye," which makes one wonder if this is indeed a bizarro-world Lord of the Rings outtake. The "opera" then takes a trip inside Grandma's head to watch Anna do vocal battle with Satan/Evil for Grandma's soul, which sounds more like a Dio/Iron Maiden number, or perhaps Tenacious D minus the humor. (Keep in mind, this is a one-woman show, so the "vocal battle" that Corrin engages in is with …herself.) Out of the blue, Anna magically realizes that her grandmother jumbles up her words and that "you evil eye" is really "I love you" and "obey God" is "goodbye." This may have read well on paper, but in performance it doesn't work. Anna unplugs the breathing machine (is assisted suicide now legal in Canada?) and returns to explain to the now-repentant father, who kneels and begs forgiveness on his mother's deathbed. Thus ends Plugged, where fifty minutes feels longer than Mourning Becomes Electra.
Corrin does have a decent rock 'n' roll-style voice, reminiscent of early Heart or the debut Alanis Morrisette album. She confidently performs this material and goes for broke on the songs, but with the benefit of only one guitar backing her up (and nothing else) the music feels sparse. It feels as if this might have worked much better as a radio play. Also, it is extremely difficult to empathize with the grandmother character because she is incomprehensible for much of the show. Further, Corrin injects zero humor into the piece (or fails to find it), engages in dark subject matter that fails to connect with its audience, and just takes its struggle too seriously. As a dramatic actor, Corrin does not have the acting chops to tackle such ambitious material. What's more, if half of the show is spoken word (as Plugged is), then how on earth can one subtitle it a rock opera? There's no chorus, no harmonies, no costumes...it's misleading to an audience expecting something more, or at least, something resembling an opera.