…and we all wore leather pants
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 6, 2007
Robert Attenweiler's new play, ...and we all wore leather pants, is funny, poetic, and often dazzlingly surreal, absurd, and magical. He describes it as Gabriel Garcia Marquez crossed with Twisted Sister; for me, some apt reference points beyond the obvious world of '80s rock in which it is set might include Sam Shepard, Edward Albee, Jean Genet, and The Addams Family. Weird stuff keeps happening to the Sturgess clan in Attenweiler's play, but they accept it with an alacrity that most of us would fail to locate, I think: Blanton, the patriarch, is nowhere near old enough to be the father of Jagger and Krank (but apparently he is); Jagger doesn't wear pants and is constantly being reassured by his wife Mary that he's a car mechanic (though he's not); Mary keeps losing her children—misplacing them, literally; and Krank, estranged from the family, lives in a car set up on cinder blocks in the driveway.
And I haven't even given away the best surprises.
But I want you to hear Attenweiler's remarkable language, which is the fuel of this antic if not wholly successful play. Here's Blanton explaining to a government bureaucrat why he's trustworthy:
I am recently turned a serious religious man. Not in the way where I'm good to people or nothin', but I heard talk on the radio the other day 'splained Jesus in a way I finally get it....Way I see it, I ain't the wicked and I ain't the virtuous—an' if I can keep a low profile when he comes 'round—nose clean and everything—I'm hopin' to fly total under his radar....
Here's Krank on a date, in his car (he's just served the young woman coffee):
JOANNE: This is good. How do you keep it warm?
KRANK: Mix of carpet fibers and dried leaves keeps a good flame.
JOANNE: This thing is on fire right now?
KRANK: A very low fire.
JOANNE: I gotta go. I don't care what's on these notes, but burning or suffocating ain't a good hand.
KRANK: No, it's fine. People tell ya shouldn't have fires inside a' cars, but they mean when you don't think n' crack a window.
I love listening to these people as they try to solve their unsolvable problems: Blanton's trying to keep Social Services at bay, Jagger's trying to remember whether he really was a rock star or not, Krank wants to hit the road with his one-man rock band ("Me"), Mary wants to find her lost kids and hold on to her husband, Joanne wants to have a baby. A mysterious stranger appears suddenly in their midst and everybody is sure he's the key to the individual redemptions they're seeking. Of course he's not; Attenweiler's plotting falters a bit with this character, though, and ultimately his purpose in the play feels a bit murky. The ending is perfect, though, and the journey to it, with these off-kilter folks in pursuit of the same American Dream as the rest of us is artful and compelling. All anybody wants is security and attention, after all, even in the weird alternate universe where this play happens, where a guitar can literally make dollar bills instead of music (in the play's most arresting and unforgettable image).
Director John Patrick Hayden seems simpatico with Attenweiler's startling sensibility, and his production realizes the play beautifully. The cast is exceptional: frequent Attenweiler collaborators Becky Benhayon (Mary) and Joe Stipek (Krank) are joined by Danny Bruckert (Jagger), Ariana Shore (Joanne), Darren Ryan (Blanton), and Ryan West (Mysterious Stranger) to bring these eccentric characters to vivid, believable life. Their conviction and commitment are infectious.
Gratifyingly, Attenweiler provides Jagger with a gorgeous speech in the center of the piece that explains the title; his command of the craft of playwriting grows with each successive work that I've seen. He's a talent to watch, and ...and we all wore leather pants is a dizzying roller-coaster ride of a play.