The title character of “The Jackson C. Frank Listening Party w/ Special Guests,” from the New Gentle Theater Challenge, is a musical footnote: A troubled artist, Frank recorded his solely album when he was 22, in 1965, which Paul Simon produced. Frank died at 56 after a life marked by tragic accidents, psychological sickness and a stint of homelessness.
I’d by no means heard of him — not realizing he had written the achingly stunning “Blues Run the Game,” which has been lined by Sandy Denny, John Mayer and Counting Crows, amongst many others — and initially thought the playwright Michael Aguirre had made Frank up as a sort of theatrical reply to the fictional folks singer of the movie “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
However sure, Frank and his music are actual, and we get to know a bit of extra about them on this new streaming manufacturing, introduced by 59E59 Theaters.
“Listening Social gathering” isn’t, nonetheless, a standard bio-play, and Aguirre doesn’t get into the weeds of Frank’s life and artistry. The musician is concurrently central and peripheral in a present — which primarily takes place within the current day — that’s extra involved in how music can foster private connections and, maybe, a way of group.
For Allen (Aguirre), listening to albums was one thing he and his older brother, Rob (Sean Phillips), had ritualized rising up: They’d purchase a brand new CD each Friday, go residence and play to the entire thing so as. Aguirre was largely impressed by his personal childhood, as Allen recounts these days and the way they helped him bond with Rob. Now he makes an attempt to do the identical with the viewers as all of us hearken to Frank’s self-titled album on the identical time.
The present contains hyperlinks to the music on numerous platforms, together with Spotify and YouTube, and at common intervals, Allen instructs us to press “play” on a selected track. We pay attention whereas watching him pay attention, after which it’s again to Allen’s reminiscences about rising up in Rob’s shadow. By the tip, we’ve primarily realized that Allen is the white-bread straight man to Rob’s enigmatic free spirit, which isn’t all that a lot by the use of insights.
At one level, Allen mentions how Kanye West invited a select few to Wyoming in 2018 to bask within the glory of his album “Ye.” However that sort of occasion was extra promotional launch than listening celebration, making a extremely managed setting through which info flowed just one approach — because it does on this play, since Aguirre and the director Sarah Norris are on the helm, and we’re following their cues.
Allen sketches out Frank’s life, with the particular visitors of the title — Paul Simon (William Phelps), the outdated hippie Grandma Woodstock (Dana Martin) and the brothers’ mom (Bethany Geraghty) — not including something of nice import, particularly for the reason that portrayals are reasonably cartoonish. Aguirre is extra within the old style idea of sharing music in a extra natural, presumably gentler approach than posting a playlist on-line.
Allen likes to suppose these CDs sustained their brotherly complicity, so when Rob goes lacking, Allen offers with it by reflecting on their outdated listening habits and maybe, not directly, on our present ones — when was the final time you sat down with an album in its entirety and in sequence?
However did Allen and Rob know one another properly? It seems more and more as if they didn’t, in any respect, so Allen’s fixation on their listening events seems like an train in solipsistic nostalgia — a difficulty Aguirre skirts, possibly as a result of it could suggest that sharing artwork doesn’t shed any particular gentle onto another person.
The Jackson C. Frank Listening Social gathering w/ Particular Friends
By April 11; newlighttheaterproject.com