LIPSTICK TRACESOriginally created and produced by Rude Mechs
Based on “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century” by Greil Marcus
Outcry Theatre Company
Directed and choreographed by Becca Johnson-Spinos
Stage Manager – Elizabeth Cantrell
Costume Designer – Katie Guiou
Set Designers – Jenna Caire and Becca Johnson-Spinos
Lighting Designer – JB Brinks
Projection & Sound Designer – Jason Johnson-Spinos
Dramaturg – Emory Otto
Production Photos – Marcy Bogner
The Narrator – Jenna Caire
Malcom McLaren – Ryan Maffei
Johnny Rotten & Tristan Tzar – Brayden Lawrence
Richard Huelsenbeck – Logan Beutel
Guy Debord & Hugo Ball – Jason Johnson-Spinos
The Heretic – Harrison Polen
Steve Jones – Finn Hardge
Reviewed Performance: 5/26/2022
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Based on the 1989 book “Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century” by Greil Marcus and adapted for the stage by the troupe Rude Mechanicals (aka Rude Mechs) of Austin Texas, the work is a whirlwind tour through the history of cultural alienation and introduces us to the creative rebels who raged against the barbarity and greed of a society they wanted no part of because they felt it didn’t want them. From Sixteenth Century heretics who railed against the restrictions of the Roman Catholic Church to the Dadaists of the early Twentieth Century making absurd art to reflect the absurdity of existence evidenced by the carnage of World War I, to the French Lettrists and Situationists in the Fifties and Sixties who created radical art and philosophy in response to a Capitalistic world in upheaval, and culminating with utter nihilism of The Sex Pistols, this production takes us on an adrenalin-fueled, Cliff Notes survey of thinkers and artists who faced their feelings of being outside the norm and responded with a defiant spit in the face of convention.
The play begins on January 14, 1978, the final concert of The Sex Pistols (where author Greil Marcus was in attendance). Lead singer Johnny Rotten (Brayden Lawrence) growls out, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” and we are off and running. Under the tutelage
of our nervous, yet determined narrator (Jenna Caire), the audience is guided on this trek through Avant-garde performances and rage, expressed through poetry, song, and dance. Every now and then the narrator catches the actors performing something that didn’t happen, and she makes them go back and do it again the correct way. We can sense that the narrator, despite her research, has as little control over the chaos occurring onstage as the audience does.
The one person who can direct this chaos to its inevitable conclusion is Becca Johnson-Spinos, who led this remarkable cast to produce a wonderful show. Do I remember all the history talked about during the evening? I do not. But I was enthralled by the energy Ms. Johnson-Spinos got from her actors. I was also impressed by their endurance as they gave themselves over to Becca Johnson-Spinos’ kinetic choreography. The dancing added immensely to that feeling of the anarchy reigning onstage, but the discipline of the choreographer and the actors, might break out into the audience and engulf us.
The Set, designed by Ms. Johnson-Spinos and Jenna Caire, features a wonderful graffiti-covered ‘brick’ wall made from cardboard boxes. The little kid in me wanted to run up and knock it down. You’ll have to make it through the entire play to see if anyone gets that opportunity. It gives a great rough edge to the proceedings. Lighting designer JB Brinks has a spray paint-like palette that artfully adds to this vibe.
From the cassock of a Sixteenth-Century monk to the torn and safety pin studded wardrobe of the Seventies punk scene and everything in between, costume designer Katie Guiou gave us an accurate picture of the various historical contexts depicted. The suits of the early and mid-Twentieth century Avant-guard artists were especially well done. I must also mention the recreation of a Dada performance art costume that is impossible to describe and must be seen to be fully appreciated.
I have seen previous Outcry Theatre productions and have always been impressed by the total commitment to the material on the part of the actors. “Lipstick Traces” is no exception. The ensemble work is crisp and, considering how continuous and frenetic the energy is (except for the presentation of a ‘film’ that tests how long an audience is willing to sit in silence.), the momentum never flags. The precision the cast exhibits in some of the dance numbers is breathtaking. Yet, each cast member gets their moment to shine, and they revel in that opportunity.
As the narrator is barely able to control her own emotion, Jenna Caire is very engaging. Trying hard to keep everything under control, she is not afraid to exert her slowly waning authority to stop the proceeding the actors bend the truth of her research. Sharing the stage with her is Johnny Lydon, otherwise known as Johnny Rotten, a leering, rude, and a strangely compelling character played with mesmerizing energy by Brayden Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence has a glare that can cause the hair on the back of your neck to stand up and his energy and endurance are incredible to watch. At the end of one section, his character just keeps jumping up and down till you think he will drop. It is an impressive performance.
Logan Beutel matches Mr. Lawrence’s energy. His portrayal of the Dada poet, writer, and psychoanalyst Richard Huelsenbeck performing was done with such bravado that it made me wonder if he was going to spontaneously combust. It was fun to watch. As the ‘situationist’ philosopher Guy DeBord, Jason Johnson-Spinos is both appropriately intellectual and charmingly baffling. Finn Hardge gives a nice hard-edge to Steve Jones, the guitarist of The Sex Pistols. I must also commend his dialect work and that of the entire cast. Every accent was very well done.
As the opportunistic manager of The Sex Pistols Malcolm McLaren, Ryan Maffei oozes self-confidence and more than a little bit of cynicism. His character seems to want to control the narrative and his looks at the audience let us know that he’s above all what’s going on. Mr. Maffei also plays the piano very well, which surprised and delighted me. Rounding out the cast is Harrison Polen who makes the most of his role as a Sixteenth-Century heretic.
Outcry Theatre has produced a work that is full of rage and anarchy and, at the end of the play, may leave you feeling more than a little exhausted. For those confused by all the history, there is a handy glossary in the program. This show is amazingly well done, and it only runs this weekend. Make time in your schedule to see it. And, unlike Johnny Rotten, you won’t feel cheated at all. Not even a little bit.
Plays through May 29, 2022
Saturday – 7:30 PM
Saturday – Sunday – 2:00 PM
Addison Theatre Centre, Studio Theatre, 15650 Addison Rd. Addison, TX 75001
For tickets and more information go to www.outcrytheatre.com