'Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll': A look back in anger, with editing

Eric Scotolati plays 10 of the characters from Eric Bogosian's 1990 show "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll" at Plays and Players.
Eric Scotolati plays 10 of the characters from Eric Bogosian's 1990 show "Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll" at Plays and Players. (RACHEL DUKEMAN)
Posted: June 10, 2014

A short list of references that date Eric Bogosian's 1990 Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll includes Phil Donahue, Dan Quayle, NutraSweet, famine in Ethiopia, and talk of microwave ovens as something new. Only the mention of Vanna White retains any cultural currency.

And yet Plays and Players' fun, engaging production uses the 80-minute piece as a continuing indictment of consumerism and hypocrisy that dates the work in a much different fashion.

Bogosian's hyper-masculine one-man show originally contained 15 male characters. Director Allison Heishman's production at Plays and Players presents 10, all of them played by Eric Scotolati.

An aging rocker recants his drug-addled days to ask, "Why didn't we die?" Entitled urbanites refuse to eat South African lobster (to protest apartheid), while an impoverished artist revels in angry white privilege, seeking fame and riches to avenge petty insults. A well-endowed clubgoer boasts of his female conquests, and a homeless beggar laments the rampant violence of street life.

With a hunch, a hat, or a hairstyle and some deft lighting by Andrew Cowles, Scotolati transforms himself from one character to the next. His indistinct, slightly boyish appearance lends enough of an everyman quality, even if he seems more solid sitting in the downstage chair than prowling the raised catwalk with the manic energy of one of the street dwellers. Greater distinction among voices - particularly in a production that lists two dialogue coaches - would help differentiate his final transitions instead of letting the conclusion merely relax into a paralyzing nihilism.

That kind of easygoing approach marks the production's problem. This version includes the casual racism and pedestrian misogyny of Bogosian's script, while removing some of the more violent stereotyping and homophobic monologues. What Heishman leaves in hits a number of safe targets: rampant consumerism, greedy executives, the double standards of the self-righteous in any time.

But we laugh at and despise these men from too safe a distance. Unlike Eddie Murphy's Raw or Delirious or Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho, all from the same late-1980s/early-1990s era, this toned-down version plants itself squarely in a present that wants laughs but is afraid to offend. Bogosian's honesty, by contrast, lashed out to reveal fears, uncover genuine offense, and shock us, even for an evening, out of our own hypocrisy.

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