Theater

Mom! Stop Making Devil Horns!

The Confusing Nostalgia Trip of These Streets

Mom! Stop Making Devil Horns!

The 20th anniversary of that pride/cringe-inducing time in Northwest history—those pivotal years when the world finally turned its gaze to Seattle, saw the flannel, heard the squall, and said, "We'll take it, how much do you want for it?"—has brought a surge of new books and documentaries examining The Time When We Did the Big Thing. Sarah Rudinoff (playwright, actress, singer, and Stranger Genius Award winner) and Gretta Harley (composer and musician) also felt they had a story to tell—a version with more estrogen—and set out to interview the women who made music in Seattle between 1989 and 1995. These Streets is a fictional concoction they assembled with playwright Elizabeth Kenny based on what they learned. What did they learn, exactly? It's tough to say.

The impulse behind These Streets makes all the sense in the world. Women are underrepresented in history! Women in Seattle, making music! Yes! Tell me more! But there are problems.

For starters, These Streets is confusing. Characters are tough to identify, stories trail off, contradictions contradict, the live band fits awkwardly into the production, and the questions that supposedly propelled the project never really get asked.

We (kind of) follow the story of Christine, Dez, Ingrid, Kayla, and Bryan as told through their present-day selves and their 1990s versions. Confusingly, the two sets of characters don't look anything alike, but they also don't really seem alike (except the Ingrids, with their similar grins and thumb-biting habits).

The band angle is also hard to follow—the musicians never take off as personalities, just staying put while characters rotate on and off the stage. (Though Harley stood out as a guitarist and seemed much more than just a hired hand.) In the midst of this confusion, there is too much actorly varnish—dancey dancing, Broadway-style singing—on these supposedly gritty, angry people.

The dialogue is glib and ostentatious in a 1990s way ("didactic discourse," anyone?), which is sometimes funny, but the narrative clunks along with too many cheap hits of nostalgia: "Who the hell is Soundgarden?" "Did you guys hear about the teen dance ordinance?" The historical winking and nudging is heavy-handed to the point of mom-dinner embarrassment. Mom! I've heard you and your friends tell these stories to each other my whole life! We get it! Tell me something new! And, for the love of god, stop making devil horns!

Stories unique to women in music—sexism in the scene, problems getting recognition—are missing. The characters lightly brush over a few lady issues, but seem committed to remaining vague. Their gist: "We were misclassified as riot grrrls, which is wrong because riot grrrls were a political movement, or feminists, because we figured that, you know, that work had already been done. We didn't want to be known as women, just as people who could fucking rock out." Devil horns. If the idea is that women should just be left to rock out and not pestered to take any stands about gender (which is perfectly reasonable), then These Streets is simply the tale of a few '90s bands that didn't make it big.

The '90s are already difficult to represent, and These Streets compounds the problem with a kaleidoscope of voices and writers. (The program cites more than 40 interviews, and the director's note is almost an apology for how confusing the story is.) First, Seattle sucked because no one paid attention (no bands ever toured here!), then Seattle sucked because everyone paid attention (evil record labels!), now Seattle sucks because no one paid attention correctly (my band wasn't mentioned in the retrospective!). The '90s now wants the same thing as the '90s then: nothing and everything and you'll never fucking get it, man. But y'know, some music just never makes it out of the basement. recommended

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Comments (29) RSS

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1
Gretta Harley is already complaining about this review on her FB page. She says "I am OK with people not liking the play," then goes on to say why she is not OK with people not liking the play. "This review is flat out lazy. If you saw These Streets, as we head into 2 more weeks of shows, please make your voice heard in response to this half-assed review one way or another, but please make the dialog intelligent." I don't find the review lazy at all. It certainly mirrors my response to the show (and the 2 friends I went with, one female, one male) felt the same. Maybe it started out as a way to introduce women into the grunge story, but that got forgotten along the way; you could've told the exact same story about a male band. With few exceptions, none of the songs used for the show were memorable (as I left the theater I heard someone say "No wonder those bands didn't make it!"). I lived through that time, and know a number of the people involved in the show, and I was very disappointed. In retrospect, the love fest in City Arts looks very embarrassing. Thanks for your honest review, Emily.
Posted by Little Brown Hen on February 27, 2013 at 3:19 PM · Report this
2
wow- you new to seattle? we have, every decade or so, a music scene people have heard of; the wailers, steve miller, heart are but a few examples prior to the late 80's.

That said, it is refreshing how the reviewer brought all kinds of preconceived notions to the play. Better to be self absorbed than to listen and god forbid, do some research.
Posted by science on February 27, 2013 at 3:25 PM · Report this
3
This is a grown-up play for grown-up people. The evolving relationships between the women are beautifully written and portrayed in a way that is both unusual in its honesty and very true to changing eras in a person's life. Sexism in the scene and problems getting recognition are central to the story- they just aren't regurgitated in a hollywood/reality tv way that the reviewer seems to require.

Next time send a reviewer who wasn't still collecting Hello Kitty stickers in 1990 and they might be able to appreciate the subtleties of the show and not just see it as some "old lady issues" that apparently remind the author of her mom- a lot. Devil horns!!!!!!
Posted by ttchick on February 27, 2013 at 3:32 PM · Report this
4
This is a grown-up play for grown-up people. The evolving relationships between the women are beautifully written and portrayed in a way that is both unusual in its honesty and very true to changing eras in a person's life. Sexism in the scene and problems getting recognition are central to the story- they just aren't regurgitated in a hollywood/reality tv way that the reviewer seems to require.

Next time send a reviewer who wasn't still collecting Hello Kitty stickers in 1990 and they might be able to appreciate the subtleties of the show and not just see it as some "old lady issues" that apparently remind the author of her mom- a lot. Devil horns!!!!!!
Posted by ttchick on February 27, 2013 at 3:36 PM · Report this
Emily Nokes 5
@2 - Please tell me more about this Steve Miller music scene in Seattle that I missed out on.
Posted by Emily Nokes on February 27, 2013 at 4:04 PM · Report this
6
Saw the play, know some of the people involved in it, and knew some of the bands apparently drawn as source material on a personal level - just to be upfront. While I definitely can't knock someone for their personal opinion of the play, I feel that the review is pretty unfair about a few items. First off - hard to follow? I went into the play blind, not really knowing what to expect, and didn't have any trouble following the story. True, the actors don't look like their young selves - but really? This is an ACT play, not a Broadway production. I can think of multiple Network TV shows with the same problem. There are 5 main characters - they have names - how hard can it be to follow? As for the band onstage, they're essentially just providing a sountrack, and, occasionally, playing backup for one of the characters performing. It makes sense in the same way that playing a recording would, and seemed to add a lot to the overall experience. Does the play tell the whole story of the Seattle music scene in the 90's? Not really, nor does it definitively tell the story of women in rock/bands at the time. But I guess I didn't feel it really set out to do so. It seemed, rather, just a slice of life, a story of 4 women, their experiences at the time and their lives now, 20 years later. Maybe that runs counter to what people want to make of it or the way it's been sold, but that was my take. And finally - finally - yeah, the bands were a contradiction, hated success, wanted success, bitched when they got it, bitched when they didn't, hated their friends who did, were happy for their friends that did - but, really, that story is in no way unique to either Seattle, the 90's, or these bands.
Posted by andyp on February 27, 2013 at 4:33 PM · Report this
7
@5 - C'mon, you know what that meant: your review says things like "the world finally turned its gaze to Seattle" but we've had a number of successful scenes here. Nothing with the intense blaze of media attention like the the early '90s, but yes, Steve Miller and Heart made it big (as well as many others), the Jackson Street jazz scene that with Ray Charles and Quincy Jones, etc.
Posted by g on February 27, 2013 at 4:37 PM · Report this
8
I'm not quite understanding "But y'know, some music just never makes it out of the basement." Seems like a pretty harsh dig at the play, especially as a final line. But it doesn't really make sense if so: should plays only be written about the winners? It seems to me that a play about people who struggle and almost make it and then go on with their lives while a few around them become rock stars would be a ripe subject. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you?
Posted by g on February 27, 2013 at 4:41 PM · Report this
9
Okay, yeah, Steve Miller didn't come out of here. I spaced on that since he does have a local connection. Oh well.
Posted by g on February 27, 2013 at 4:44 PM · Report this
derek_erdman 10
@7, 8, 9: Please, continue.

@11: Perhaps!
Posted by derek_erdman http://www.derekerdman.com on February 27, 2013 at 4:54 PM · Report this
11
@10: Ooooo, snark! Neat!
Posted by g on February 27, 2013 at 4:58 PM · Report this
Carla G Art 12
The title of the review is catchy, “mom”, and it immediately identifies the intent of the writer.
Sure, many of the women then are now mothers. We are the moms that now enforce authority and volunteer for school events.
Our history, as small and irrelevant as it may now seem to the women of the next generation, is real and is important.
“These Streets” is about women and emancipation. It is about equality and sexism. It covers the reality of the music business. But it is more than that- a tribal identity, a slice of time with all its consequences. History.
The play is in tune with the frantic chaos of the time- characters, locations and events are not nicely laid out for the viewer. At times it is loud and layered with the band on stage. A band that is always there anonymously like an “umbrella” spread over time.
True the characters don’t have too much resemblance with their younger selves (most of us change a lot in 20 years), with the exception of Ingrid the drug addict which is easier to identify –duh.
I wonder if the reviewer wrote her first draft before she even went to see it.
When I listen to the voices (vocals) of the women in music today, I feel proud. Today more women allow themselves to have an “edge” to their voice, “rock” or more correctly “rage” on stage. Not because they are “riot girls” or part of some other group, but because of the female musicians during the “grunge” area.
Apparently the fight is not over- .
Posted by Carla G Art http://ArtCarla.com on February 27, 2013 at 5:44 PM · Report this
13
I dunno - I haven't seen the show myself, but the Stranger's, the Weekly's and the Seattle Times' reviewers all pretty much come to the same conclusion. And how often do the Stranger and the Times agree on anything!? So methinks that the protesters doth protest too much: Sounds like the show needs to go back to the shop for more retooling and refining.
Posted by Dingle Berries on February 27, 2013 at 6:05 PM · Report this
Carla G Art 14
I looked up the Seattle Weekly review from Feb.22nd, nothing negative there (?) Maybe a link would help, or better- your own review of the play.
Posted by Carla G Art http://ArtCarla.com on February 27, 2013 at 6:28 PM · Report this
15
@14, you might have been reading a PREview, not the review, which came out yesterday (2/27):
http://www.seattleweekly.com/2013-02-27/…
Posted by Dingle Berries on February 27, 2013 at 6:32 PM · Report this
16
Ouch - the Weekly may not love the show either, but it's a hell of a lot better written review, making some very valid points.
Posted by andyp on February 27, 2013 at 7:28 PM · Report this
17
Seattle Times says similar stuff:

http://seattletimes.com/html/thearts/202…

I suspect the reason this review struck a nerve or two was mostly the headline...feels too dismissive, like there couldn't be a vital story here just because the subjects aren't current young hipsters.
Posted by g on February 28, 2013 at 9:30 AM · Report this
18
A negative Stranger review is unsurprising and dare I say tired. You're going to have to move out of snark when you grow up. Believe me, we've seen you before and survived. Now get to working on your own craft little writer. Im sorry was that too snarky? just trying to speak your language. Carrie Akre
Posted by Olds on February 28, 2013 at 2:36 PM · Report this
19
Sitting in the audience at These Streets was like coming home for me; it was clear I was in a roomful of people with whom I had shared other rooms over the years. A couple of local reviews have commented about confusion and the lack of a simple linear narrative. But isn't that the point? We are far too young to be icons of a "history"; we are still making our way, albeit more quietly than we once did. No, These Streets, for me, is a temporal window, a look back to a time not so long ago, when we were awash in the madness and the glory of a unique combination of geography, economy and whatever the Hell else was going on. I have never, out of hundreds of evenings in the clubs, encountered a simple, linear narrative. That's not why I was in the clubs; it’s not why I was at ACT. I was there, at least for the moment, to live inside of an energy, a communal identity, a coming together in a wildness, a chaotic, exuberant living moment. A shared experience of this moment. To rock.

These Streets makes little effort to paint a pretty picture of the oddness, the quirks, the utter lack of a ‘speakable’ consensus. It speaks volumes of how utterly bloody miraculous it is for a bunch of kids with their hair on fire to hang together long enough and with enough guts and attachment to making something of value that they find themselves in a BAND. And then it sweeps you away again, into an authentic connection with the real thing -- you get to rock again, and again. Could it use some polishing? sure, so could Mudhoney. But that's the point.

Posted by BobS on February 28, 2013 at 3:00 PM · Report this
20
I am not from Seattle and was too busy elsewhere in the 90s trying to make a living and raise a family so not paying attention much to popular music, grunge or otherwise. So, my assessment of the play is more from a literary-theatrical point of view rather than did they capture the essence of the movement or the people. In that vein, I thought it was very clever and creative-- which made the evening enjoyably worthwhile. It did have rough spots, but my take is that roughness was expressing what the culture and music was really like during the time that was being portrayed-- so rather than the author and director describing the ambiance, they were demonstrating it. Seems like a good artistic technique to me. The characters were all unique and it was fun watching them bounce back and forth from immaturity to maturity, as a creative method for depicting character development. All that being said, I admit to being slightly confused at the onset, but sometimes the viewer has to suspend disbelief and let life unfold. It was worth it, and I left the theatre with a big smile on my face, as did my three companions.
Posted by BeingPresent on February 28, 2013 at 5:52 PM · Report this
21
I loved it... It took me back and kept me engaged!! I laughed, I cried, I wanted to bum rush the stage.. and the music totally rocked. Were you listening or too busy being critical?!
Posted by Vendorab on February 28, 2013 at 11:34 PM · Report this
22
I thought I was going to love this play, given that I'm basically their target audience (late 30s, played in all girl rock bands for 10 years, obsessed with girl bands, punk, and grunge since I was in grade school, etc...). But honestly, I didn't understand what they were trying to say. For example, the narrator (who is for some reason a guy) says that when he saw the Go Gos for the first time, he thought their instruments were too big for their bodies, but when he saw PJ Harvey, she rocked. It seemed like this was supposed to make a point about the change in how women were representing themselves, but given the story of the Go Gos and how bad ass and talented they were, and how they were originally a punk band, too, I didn't really understand what that point was. There were several lines like that, where I felt like the points of view were unclear or undeveloped.

It also annoyed me that they had two guys playing the two most powerful instruments in the band, lead guitar and drums. That was awful. There are plenty of great female musicians they could have gotten, and the fact that they chose to go with two guys was bizarre.

Speaking of the band, I didn't understand what the line up was. Were the characters an all girl band? Who played what? Did they all play bass and guitar? It kind of seemed like it. How were they related to the backing band? I had a lot of fucking questions about that.

Also, the characters weren't fleshed out at all. I felt like I was watching that movie "Satisfaction" with all the archetypes (druggie, serious musician butch girl, pretty, thin, shy one who blossoms into a killer performer in, like, the first 30 seconds of her first live show). And some of the things the girls said at the beginning of the play about not getting how people could actually stand up and play at the same time frankly made them sound like speds. Did the sales guys at Guitar Center write those lines? I felt offended by the dopeyness. If these were supposed to be the cool girls in Seattle, god help us. I did like the line about how it's impossible to sound like L7 AND the Throwing Muses, because, ha, that always happens when people write about women.

It felt like a rushed production. That said, the musical performances were really great. I would have gone to see all of their bands.

More...
Posted by virginia mason on March 1, 2013 at 1:49 AM · Report this
23
Thanks #19/Bob S - I feel the same way but you said it much better than I could have. A lot of the lines came straight from the oral histories - it was meant to be gritty, chaotic, awkward and sometimes self-conscious. That's what it was like back then. These Streets also went far beyond the 'female story' to capture the truth of all of the bands that were there back then and watched their city, and the world, change fast and unexpectedly. There was a lot of beauty and truth on the stage. I don't think it would have worked to have some kind of super developed, linear fictional story - it wasn't about that. As soon as you'd do that, people would argue about which real person's life each character was supposed to be portraying and lose the point of the play. I loved it. I think the Stranger should be sending someone else to review it who is versed in experimental theater.
Posted by Mugs on March 1, 2013 at 9:08 AM · Report this
BLUE 24
Moved to Seattle, as an adult, in '89. Saw the show opening weekend. With that background...

This is a poorly written review but I don't disagree with the conclusion. I was amused but also cringing. Repeatedly. The music was a nice selection from the times and not all bad. The script and the arc on the other hand... Geesh, it was like something from a playwriting workshop for college students. I imagine workshop dialogs going something like: "Yeah, and one of the characters should have a drug problem. And, it'd be good if there was a death or something tragic like but not one of the main characters cause that'd be too sad..." And, yeah, all the mens! Why?
Posted by BLUE on March 3, 2013 at 8:34 AM · Report this
25
I'm excited to see this play and would have no problem with this review being strictly about the problems the writer had with the structure in its self, but really? Disparaging Mom jokes? About women that we're playing shows when you were still dicking around in the sandbox? Show some respect, please. You and your dumb band and any other female musicians owe numerous thanks to the efforts of the women before us. They made it so every time we load our shit in to a club, fourteen dumb knuckleheads don't ask us why we're carrying the bass player's amp. To ignore that and to use an absolutely obnoxious whinging embarrassed teenager's lament speaks only to your lack of wisdom. When you get to a certain age you stop being embarrassed of your mother and, god willing and if she is a powerful and good force in your life, start thanking her instead.
Posted by Heather Millward on March 3, 2013 at 3:29 PM · Report this
26
What a shame that snark is what passes for intelligent, critical discourse and observation. It's for good reason that it's easy to dismiss reviews in the Stranger (other than music) because they are often the written equivalent of a toddler in full-blown meltdown.

"These Streets"is one evocative, poignant,funny, and thought-provoking piece of theater. I freely admit to being a theater junkie - from the Big Apple to small towns, with plenty of time put in around stages in Seattle. It does a mind good to go home from a performance and feel engaged.

Call me simple, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about how powerful this show was and I saw it two weeks ago.
Posted by spoondog on March 3, 2013 at 9:00 PM · Report this
27
What a shame that snark is what passes for intelligent, critical discourse and observation. It's for good reason that it's easy to dismiss reviews in the Stranger (other than music) because they are often the written equivalent of a toddler in full-blown meltdown.

"These Streets"is one evocative, poignant,funny, and thought-provoking piece of theater. I freely admit to being a theater junkie - from the Big Apple to small towns, with plenty of time put in around stages in Seattle. It does a mind good to go home from a performance and feel engaged.

Call me simple, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about how powerful this show was and I saw it two weeks ago.
Posted by spoondog on March 3, 2013 at 9:04 PM · Report this
28
There is so much to be moved and engaged by in this show. Speaking as someone who has no particular nostalgia for the 90s Seattle music scene (and yes, I was here), I was happy to see the show reach beyond that, and thoroughly entertained by the great stage band and the brave, bristling, funny, poignant cast. The show was at its best when it rose above time and place to deal with bigger questions about art, aging, and collaboration. It's a layered, complicated, ambitious project, and as such it opens itself up to criticism - but it also rewards. "These Streets" shares some of the imperfections of most new musicals (too many songs and too many that don't move the story forward), but it also wants to be more than just a musical - and it succeeds, mainly because of its generosity, passion and inclusiveness. The show reaches out to connect and to pay its respects not only to the female rockers of Seattle but to music as a way of life, and all the unsung artists who never turn a dime but continue to devote their lives to being part of it. On the night I saw the show, the audience felt part of it too, and they loved it.
Posted by roses and bones on March 6, 2013 at 7:38 PM · Report this
29
I like how everyone who enjoyed this show writes about it in the most vague ways. I could have gotten what you all seem to have gotten out of it just by reading the program.
Posted by The review was smarter than the comments on March 7, 2013 at 11:30 PM · Report this

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