Review of Eddie and Dave at Atlantic Theater Company

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    January 23, 2019
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    Perhaps Amy Staats, the playwright and lead actor of Eddie and Dave at Atlantic Stage 2, is into minimalism. Maybe that is why only the first names of Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth are used in the title of this quasi bio satire of the two rockers and the rise of their supergroup,Van Halen, in the MTV heyday of the 1980s. Maybe that is why merely three of the group’s four members are actually portrayed, while the fourth, bass player Michael Anthony, shows up only as a framed portrait hung on a wall in a running gag. (Sammy Hagar, a later member, gets a visual shout out as well). Maybe that is why we hear only brief riffs of their greatest hits, though it is much more likely that the reason has something to do with music licensing. And maybe that is why the play’s 37 short scenes go fleeting by with so few laughs, so little gravitas and virtually no variance in tone. Under the uninspired if brisk direction of Margot Bordelon, Staats and company fail to heed Roth’s classic advice as set forth in the sage megahit, Jump, “You got to roll with the punches and get to what's real.”

    Staats employs a narrator (Vanessa Aspillaga) in the guise of an MTV video jockey to frame the story. “This is my memory play,” she tells us, “It is brightly lit, it is sentimental, and not at all realistic.” Well, she is half right. Sentimental is not an applicable sentiment when you have the tall Omer Abbas Salem portraying the short Valerie Bertinelli, Eddie’s wife for two decades, with an embarrassing look-I’m-a-hairy-guy-in-drag demeanor. And it is only a memory play if it involves the narrator’s memories. Most of what happens here takes place apart from what this nameless VJ would have experienced.

    The tale proceeds, Wikipedia style, from Eddie (Ms. Staats) and his brother Alex (Adina Verson) arriving with their parents from the Netherlands in 1962, to 1971 when the rocking brothers meet the tempestuous Roth (Megan Hill) and the band is forged in steel. Great success, minor jealousies and forgettable intrigue follow, as do their cravings for alcohol and cocaine, the advent of music videos and the inevitable going of their separate ways. Alex’s tough times are presented as quick throw away lines like, “I gotta go get a divorce. I’ll be back in three months,” and “I gotta go to rehab. See you.” Dave, meanwhile, bathes in his own narcissism, “I’m Tarzan and Brigitte Bardot all wrapped up in one!”

    By the time the three musicians ultimately reunite, at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards, their failure to get the band back together is neither tragic nor comic, since no real pathos for the characters has been established. Ms. Staats and Ms. Hill have little chemistry in what should be a fiery friendship and Ms. Verson has so little to do as Alex that she fades into the background. That they are women in wigs portraying sex symbol men seems to have no bearing on Ms. Bordelon’s vision of the production. As the VJ, Ms. Aspillaga is missing the X factor qualities that made her real world counterparts, like Martha Quinn and Downtown Julie Brown, such phenomena of their day. Indeed, the real world is the playwright's final enemy here. With Roth, the Van Halens, Ms. Bertinelli, and even MTV all aging gracefully, this would-be rock and roll bad boy of a show has nowhere to run.

    (Photo by Ahron R. Foster)

    "Initially, this is pretty funny. So are the deadpan fraternal personae of Ms. Staats and Ms. Verson, contrasted with the grandstanding extroversion of Ms. Hill’s Dave. Wittiest of all perhaps is the presentation of Van Halen’s fourth member, the bassist Michael Anthony, portrayed by a framed photograph, which is only occasionally acknowledged by the others. Ultimately, though, the comedy is too blunt and repetitive to sustain the 90 uninterrupted minutes of Eddie and Dave. Ms. Staats (who appeared memorably in the Mad Ones’ brilliant Miles for Mary) avoids the sharp, satirical focus of the classic rock-mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap." Her approach is both sloppier and more sincere."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "If you’re an audience member who’s willing to imagine, say, “Panama” at top volume in your mind as you watch it, then Eddie and Dave is the perfect accompaniment. As it plays now, though, this big-hearted show sounds too much like an electric guitar—right before you plug it into the amp."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    "Staats hasn’t found quite the right ending for Eddie and Dave. The comedy and the chaos tend to dribble off in the last 10 minutes of this 90-minute play. Maybe she should end things with David proclaimed as the “Este Lauder of tattoos.”"
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap