By Stanford Friedman
Perhaps Amy Staats, the playwright and lead actor of Eddie and Dave, 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.
Eddie and Dave – By Amy Staats; Directed by Margot Bordelon
WITH: Omer Abbas Salem (Val), Amy Staats (Eddie), Megan Hill (Dave), Adina Verson (Al) and Vanessa Aspillaga (MTV DJ).
Scenic design by Reid Thompson, costume design by Montana Levi Blanco, lighting design by Jiyoun Chang, sound design by Palmer Hefferan, original compositions by Michael Thurber, projections by Shawn Boyle, hair and wigs by Cookie Jordan. The The Atlantic Theater Company at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St., 866-811-4111, https://atlantictheater.org/production/eddie-and-dave/. Through Sunday, February 10. Running time: 90 minutes.