Brett Ryback’s Joe Schmoe Saves the World is at IU’s Wells Metz Theatre this week. The action of the story takes place in a music rehearsal space in the US and on the top level of a construction site overlooking the road to Azadi Square in Tehran. It’s February of 2011, the Arab Spring. In New York Joe is an ambitious rock and roller with his partner Gloria a song writer. In Tehran Lyon is a frightened student with Afarin a graphic artist.
Joe Schmoe Saves the World is part of the IU Summer Theatre’s Premiere Musical program. It’ss part of IU’s investment in new theatre. The series helps to develop works in progress and this is the first full length staging of Joe Schmoe… It’s a roughly polished workshop production with imaginative direction and a talented and committed cast.
Joe, Scott Van Wye is the lead singer in the tongue in cheek titled band. In Van Wye’s hands Joe is at first very much searching for the lowest common denominator for rock success. He’s definitely a musical warrior, a recovering alcoholic who been thrown out of three previous bands. Joe credits Gloria, Mary Beth Black with both saving and inspiring him. As Gloria she’s a broader thinker than Joe and pushes for more involved music as she learns more and more about the student protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Iran. Joe pushes back and he’s always careful to remind her that it was he who discovered her talent. With the band suddenly on the brink of commercial success Joe and Gloria’s visions collide.
On the roof of the construction site in Tehran, Aaron Ricciardi’s Lyon is a shy student who’s brought artist Afarin up for an evening candle light tryst. The building is actually being constructed by Lyon’s father. As Afarin, Meadow Nguy is indeed, an artist but a graffiti painting rebel as well. Lyon’s idea of the intimate evening, of a woman’s place and Afarin’s very different idea of a woman’s place and her plan to paint a huge mural message spark a conflict of visions and values.
Joe Schmoe Saves the World progresses as Gloria seeks to raise Joe’s level of consciousness about the greater world and Afarin seeks to open Lyon to his own sense of rebellion and justice. As Afarin’s phone link fails due to a government blackout, it’s the awakened Lyon who connects via satellite. In a lovely piece of staging Gloria and Joe circle Afarin and Lyon as the screen displays his successful efforts.
Music is central to the play’s plot and “Listen to the Music” comes in two parts. The first champions the space, the respite that music…lyrical moments, dance club beats, word rap and pop-rock…can offer. Then as Lyon and Afarin hear the chants from the streets. It returns with new fervor mixed with the chant of “no more silence” as an energizing and rallying cry for all, a call to say something.
The IU Summer Theatre’s Premiere Musical production of Brett Ryback’s Joe Schmoe Saves the World directed by Christian Barillas plays August 16-19 in IU’s Well-Metz Theatre.
Reuben Lucas is the designer of the projections that make utube videos, twitters , Facebook posts, the internet and Afarin’s message on a blank wall in Tehran a very important fifth member the cast.
IU undergrads Michelle Zink, Jimmy Hogan, Brian Kress and Danielle McKnight make an accomplished musical and dramatic vocal quartet. Music director and IU grad’ Richard Baskin, Jr. leads the production and the tight instrumental quartet from the keyboard.
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker