Stereophonic: A Captivating Family Drama Set in the World of Rock ‘n’ Roll


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A Captivating Glimpse Behind the Scenes

Peering behind the mystique of rock ’n’ roll has undeniable voyeuristic appeal. There is an immediate thrill to seeing the mahogany-paneled control room and glassed-in sound booth that fill the Golden Theater stage, where “Stereophonic” opened on Friday. The play delivers far more than a dishy glimpse inside the recording studio during rock’s golden age.

An Electrifying Family Drama

A fly-on-the-wall study of how people both need and viciously destroy each other, “Stereophonic” is a fiery family drama, as electrifying as any since “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Its real-time dissection of making music is ingeniously entertaining and an incisive meta commentary on the nature of art. The play is a staggering achievement and already feels like a must-see American classic.

A Pressure-Cooker Setting

It’s 1976 in Sausalito, Calif., and a not-yet-famous band is laying down the record that will propel it to stardom and unravel the personal lives of its members. The setting is a pressure-cooker: The coffee machine is broken but there’s a gallon bag of cocaine, tensions and affections — both creative and personal — are running hot.

An Epic Canvas of Detail

Directed with a conductor’s precision by Daniel Aukin, “Stereophonic” is an epic canvas rendered in hyper-intimate detail: whispered confidences, technical adjustments, slouches, stares, lots of lying around, and rolling joints. Stillness and silence are as expressive as the meticulously orchestrated dialogue, with body language sometimes even more so.

When the poetic and insecure Diana, played with stunning vulnerability by Sarah Pidgeon, sits down at the piano some 45 minutes into the three-hour show, the actor’s radiant voice delivers the first significant composition the audience hears: “Bright,” a folk-tinged rock ballad with sterling, ethereal vocals. Notes trickle out in brief bursts, often interrupted or doled out in riffs, creating abstract expressions of character and discord generated by Butler’s music.

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