By Stana Milanovich
Malcolm Wise and Jae Head in "Soul Crushing Disco Ball"
Photo by Glen Gainor
I wanted to like Soul Crushing Disco Ball, really I did. I have a soft spot for actors portraying childhood moments, non-linear plotting, and the enduring power of friendship. The director, Chambers Stevens welcomed me and other audience members into the poor sightlines of the Hudson Backstage like an amiable puppy and I really was hoping I could write something positive about the play he wrote with Travis Perkins, but no. I will do my best. Coming in at 90 uninterrupted minutes it is mercifully short. The actors, Jae Head and John Brahan play nicely off each other and for the most part are fully committed to the characters. The childhood moments are particularly strong and feel true to boyhood. The stage hands (all female) clear the stage quickly and the shifting panels, chairs, and benches do a good job of sketching out schoolyards, hospitals, STD clinics, and whatever room is needed at the time. The sound cues do their level best to keep the audience cued into the rapid shifts in time and place. The lighting is fine. There's parking behind the theater and you could grab a coffee beforehand to brace yourself.
John Brahan in "Soul Crushing Disco Ball"
Photo by Glen Gainor
And now begins the unpleasantness. While I thoroughly back non-linear storytelling and generally find vignettes pleasant, there needs to be a plan and purpose to such shifts. Disco Ball feels like the writers were worried it would get boring, selected a few snippets of these character's lives, threw them up into the air, and put the play in the near random order in which they fell. It's kinda linear, but kinda not, and frankly mostly a mess. You feel moments should comment on each other but they mostly don't, and the audience careens through time and all too brief and random-seeming moments of these character's lives hoping meaning will come. It does not. The biggest takeaway, given in a heartfelt speech by Head's character at the wedding of his best friend portrayed by Brahan is that male friendships are okay and kinda like a marriage but no-homo dude. That's just...sad. Not to mention the fact that Head's character sobers up at the end way too fast from his rather delightful standing drunk. It's really sad that while there's clearly a need and desire for a modern take on male friendship
Soul Crushing Disco Ball is what we've got. These bros love each other enough to sleep with each other's stripper girlfriends if it will break their dude off from a bad relationship and clearly there's something wrong with me that I find that less than touching. Is this the best we have to offer? The Disco Ball is the titular strip club these boys find themselves in at central points in their life and...isn't that a little tired? Can't hetrosexual men be friends without offering up repeated examples of "no-homo, brah" There's repeated discussion of how their lives would be easier if they were homosexual...because sure, any gay man will tell you there's no drama dating other men. And frankly there's not much drama with the women they date, as they barely exist as characters, even allowing the trope that they are all offscreen. The birth of a daughter is supposed to be a big moving point but mostly I just worried about her, given how these men treat the women in their lives.
I want Soul Crushing Disco Ball to be better than it is, but the ideas feel very staid in a dialog that hopefully has moved way, way past this point. Maybe it hasn't. In which case,
Soul Crushing Disco Ball is a very sad testament to that fact and the Dude-bros in your life might really enjoy themselves. There are some moments that are really fun, the first meeting of Marco and Bobby, the switchback nature of success as friends grow and change, a very solid moment in the hospital, and a rather gleeful ode to what could go wrong at a bachelor's party. Again, the actors are doing their best. But these moments are heavily outweighed by some of the purest drek and dated thinking to grace a stage in some time. Moreover, in one of the play's most egregious examples of bad writing, a key moment which should inform almost everything else in the play (but particularly that hospital scene) is held off to the last flashback scene as a reveal and it just...collapses. It does nothing at that point, nor did the acting substantiate this information previously. It just sits there like so much dramatic potential wasted and...Dude! Seriously? Brah. Just nah. Nah.
To clarify, never before have I felt so close to the reviewer Jedediah Leland from Citizen Kane. And actually, there's an example of masculine friendship that seems progressive in comparison.
Soul Crushing Disco Ball runs thru Sunday, February 3rd at Hudson Backstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tickets are available at
SOUL CRUSHING DISCO BALL
Playwrights Travis Perkins and Chambers Stevens
Directed by Chambers Stevens
Produced by Anarchy Pictures and Gia Paladino
Set and Lighting Design by Vali Tirsoaga
Sound Design by Bethany Nava
Fight Choreography by Darbianna Dinsmore
Costume Design by Ellen Uzarowicz