First of all, there’s the bar. Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s design of Hank’s Bar is a classic and so realistic you will want to park on a stool and order a beer. It’s 1992 and Hank’s Bar is celebrating its 25th anniversary. An article in the Reader celebrates all that music history, much to Hank’s disgust. Hank’s could represent any of our favorite and possibly doomed neighborhood rock bars. The Hideout. The Empty Bottle. Subterranean. The Double Door. Martyrs.
Unfortunately, the fate of Hank’s Bar is foreordained by its changing neighborhood. Sound like a familiar story? Laura Eason’s play, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now, directed by BJ Jones, is on stage now at Raven Theatre. The characters are indelibly drawn and well performed. Jeff Mills is Hank, the longtime bar owner who has nurtured young bands, some of which turned out to be the real thing, and he slipped in some famous ones for special gigs. My heart skipped a beat when I heard that the Clash played there while on tour. Kiss was there before they put on makeup. And Nirvana stopped in.
But the neighborhood is changing and that grungy bar in front of a warehouse is now a much more valuable piece of property. The longtime landlord, who’s represented by his son Joey (Casey Morris), has better ideas for that venue. First of all, there will be a 20 percent rent increase. And then, who knows.
Hank’s daughter Lena (Lindsay Stock) and bartender/all-purpose man Toby (Christopher Acevedo) help Hank operate the bar. But Lena knows that change is coming and wants to help Hank’s Bar be part of the future. She comes in from a warehouse DJ party and suggests they open the door to the warehouse and have a Monday night DJ dance party. That would bring in lots of people and cash.
Hank hates DJs. “He’s playing records. How is that a skill? We can all play records at home.” And “My bar. My rules.” His second ex-wife Bette (Dana Black, in a strong and sweet performance) tries to persuade Hank to make some changes too. (There’s a H/T to Forest Park, where Bette lives now, after moving out of the over-the-bar apartment.)
Lena’s ambitious DJ friend Nash (Henry Greenberg), says he respects Hank for his role in helping musicians, but he knows where music is heading. And it’s not going to be kind to corner bars that host small crowds of rock music fans.
One dance party, DJ’d by Nash, does bring in lots of cash, but it’s not enough. My plus-one, a real estate agent, said afterwards, “I knew that would happen. From the beginning.” And yes, The Undeniable Sound of Right Now is a predictable story, even though the combination of an excellent cast and BJ Jones’ direction make the Raven Theatre production a thoroughly enjoyable outing. And then there’s that bar. Covered in band posters and graffiti. “Punk Ain’t Dead.” “ Shut Up and Drink.” “Cubs Suck.”
Sound design is by Lindsay Jones and lighting by Heather Gilbert. Lacie Hexom handles props and set dressing. Costumes are by Izumi Inaba.
The Undeniable Sound of Right Now runs 95 minutes with no intermission. See it at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., through June 16. Tickets are $46 (save $3 by buying online) with other discounts available. Performances Thursday-Sunday.