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Diamond Dead

by Rich See

You go to heaven for the scenery,
You go to hell for the company,
You go to heaven for the halo,
You go to hell for the rock and roll...

---Diamond Dead the world's first "truly dead" rock group

Dr. Diabolicus (Andrew Lloyd Baughman, left) chats with 
Jesus (Ernie Achenbach)
A. L. Baughman and E. Achenbach

There are the stirrings of a cult phenomena in tiny DCAC these days. It's the world premiere of Landless Theatre Company's stage adaptation of the film Diamond Dead. (The film's still in process, so don't be concerned that you may not have heard of it.) Conceived and written by Brian Cooper, with an original score and song list from composer Richard Hartley (Rocky Horror Show); director George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead)is directing the movie, which has been in various states of development for the past ten years. So now you may be asking: How did this Hollywood film-to-be come to DCAC's tiny black box stage? Answer: By an odd series of quirky events fueled by the new purveyor of all things obscure -- The Internet.

When one play fell through, Landless' artistic director Andrew Lloyd Baughman went in search of another and when a friend of a friend of a friend (you get the picture) mentioned he should check out he suddenly found the inspiration for a musical. And thus, Diamond Dead the play, has come to DCAC and it is -- a dead head of a good time!

Baughman's adaptation has taken liberties with Cooper's script by removing a main character and increasing another's visibility. Composer Hartley wrote a new song, not included in the film, for the character of Glitter... a show tune kind of song for a show tune kind of guy. With a music score more in sync with Hedwig & the Angry Inch than Rent, Diamond Dead is still a production being tinkered and toyed with and one that makes use of topical headlines. So each evening that Landless is performing it, things are bound to change and evolve. Which makes it very open to a cult following. (The "maggot shields" handed out in the evening's goodie bag prior to walking into the theatre, helps in that cause too.)

The premise reads like a demented story line from Days of Our Lives. A struggling garage band is rehearsing when Dr. Diabolicus, the band's leader, and his girlfriend Aria, have a fight. Unhappy that she is unable to be a part of the show, Aria fiddles with a speaker amp and blows the entire band to smithereens. Later in a graveyard, bemoaning her fate of being alive and alone, she encounters "A Death." (There are too many people constantly dying for there to realistically be just one Death.) This Death makes a deal with her to do his job for a year, at the end of which, she must bring him 365 souls. Armed with his magic sickle, she brings her friends back to life -- sorta. Actually, she brings them back from the great beyond to a state of being the living dead. They are basically harmless zombies, who happen to be cannibals, and who are not entirely happy about being kind of alive and still kind of dead. However, the band's music has struck a chord with the world's death-obsessed youth and they are now making their first live appearance on NTV. Meanwhile a crazed, right-wing, born-again religious leader is planning to annihilate them -- again.

Director Shirley Serotsky has pulled together an unexpectedly well-voiced cast. Vocally, every player in the piece carries his or her own weight and together all sound like a rock & roll band who have been performing for some time. The acting in the production equals the singing and the entire show flows fairly smoothly. She's kept her cast from sliding into creating one-dimensional characters, which could be very easy with this musical dark comedy. Rachel Warren's costumes and set fit the production like a sock puppet with Glitter's green boa and fishnet adding a bit of color to the band's dark demeanor.

As Dr. Diabolicus, Andrew Lloyd Baughman brings a certain horror and pathos to his character's unrequited love for wholly alive Aria. As his slightly insane girlfriend, Rachel Warren is both outwardly cool and calculating, as well as vulnerable and sincere. Kathleen Gonzales has the entertainment reporter down pat with her interpretation of NTV correspondent Pussy A. Dangle, whose moment of infamy comes when she accidentally swallows a maggot. I did mention those shields...

In the camp roles of gay drag rocker Glitter and S&M dominatrix Veronica Vinyl, William Morris and Patricia Penn play to the crowd with humor and attitude. Rob Ebbin as Bangz offers up more expletives in two minutes than most people use in a week. Josh Speerstra's Spyder Syn is an interesting amalgamation of Pee Wee Herman and the Devil. And Jen Tonon, as drop-in artist from the grave Nancy Sponge, looks and acts like someone who's been lying around a cemetery for the past thirty years.

Ernie Achenbach's joint smoking Jesus shows us a very mellow side to the spiritual leader. While Zane Oberholzer as Rasputin -- the same "evil Russian dude" from the revolution -- sets the tone of the evening in the DCAC art gallery. And our leaders for audience participation and youthful anarchy are played with alternating apathy and glee by Matthew Baughman as Jack and Amy Easton as Geena.

Over all the show flows remarkably well for a brand new production. As it is being developed and fine tuned, Landless could rework some of the lines that fall into dead space (no pun intended). The goodie bag items -- a direct spin off of Rocky Horror -- could be more smoothly worked into the play (such as Reverend Scruggs' handing out of squirt guns) or simply allowed to develop on their own. Perhaps advertising could advise: Bring a sock, bring a snack, bring a semi-automatic squirt gun... And, to aid with the flow of the ending, the curtain should fall with Pussy A. Dangle's final broadcast, so that when the video goes out, the lights go down. Also, letting the audience choose the fate of Reverend Scruggs would be a fun addition. All minor issues, really.

DC is lucky to have such a plethora of small theatre companies bringing new works and productions to our stages. Often their artistic risks are much greater than the major players and should be appreciated, because its the fringe members who pull the mainstream in their wake. Small theaters are the incubators for much of what we see on our larger stages. So put on your whitest shade of pale makeup, dress in your blackest attire, and take the Goth in you out for a night on the town! This is a fun, Halloween-time show to see -- catch it while you can!

Additional Info can be found at:

Diamond Dead
Screenplay and lyrics written by Brian Cooper with contributions by George A. Romero
Original musical composition by Richard Hartley
Stage Adaptation by Andrew Lloyd Baughman
Directed by Shirley Serotsky
Music Direction by Andrew Lloyd Baughman
with Rachel Warren, Andrew Lloyd Baughman, Rob Ebbin, William Morris, Josh Speerstra, Jen Tonon, Zane Oberholzer, Kathleen Gonzales, Patricia Penn, Matthew Baughman, Amy Easton, Ernie Achenbach
Set & Costume Design: Rachel Warren
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes with no intermission
A production of Landless Theatre
DCAC, 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, DC
Telephone: 202-462-7833
THU - SAT @7:30; $20
Opening 09/30/04, closing 10/30/04
Reviewed by Rich See based on 10/02/04 performance
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