When I think of the ‘90s, a few things come to mind: Saturday morning cartoons. Pop Rocks. The Spice Girls. Acid-washed jeans. The standard list of novelties.
What I usually don’t think of are drug-fueled murders, Rudy Giuliani in drag, club owners in eye patches, and a jar of testicles located “somewhere in New Jersey.”
All of these and more are featured in the new 21-and-up show “Sex Drugs Death Disco: The Michael Alig Story,” currently playing at Re-Bar in Belltown. While the premise is an intriguing one, the show unfortunately suffers from a low budget and some less-than-spectacular acting, making the experience all the more, well, interesting.
The show focuses on the story of Michael Alig, a club promoter-turned-murderer in the wild New York club scene of the ‘90s, which was made famous by films like “Party Monsters” and James St. James’ memoir “Disco Bloodbath.” Alig (Craig Trolli) is a small-town kid from South Bend, Indiana who, in the pursuit of fame and fun, starts the notorious group “Club Kids” with his friend James St. James (Joel Steinpreis).
The show mostly takes place in the late ‘90s after Alig has risen to notoriety in the club scene. He made a name for himself distributing drugs to young kids in order to get them to party at club owner Peter Gaitien’s (Timothy Thomas) New York nightclubs. By the time the show begins, Alig has already murdered Colombian drug dealer Angel (Seth Tankus) and, from there, the show bounces between different time periods, revealing how Alig met Angel and connecting the events that led to his eventual conviction.
It’s not surprising that Alig’s story has been an inspiration for various
books and films over the years. It’s far from boring. Writer Vincent Kovar frames the tale as a dark comedy with
an emphasis on the absurdity and depravity of everyone involved. The writing itself is good for the most part,
with some particularly funny moments when the characters develop haughty academic explanations for everything going on.
However, some of the show’s other jokes, specifically those in reference to dead hookers and Angel’s status as a person of color, either fall flat or border on offensive. It’s never clear if the intent of the play is to be an actual comedy or just to explore the despicable nature of clubgoers who care more about scoring drugs than dealing with murder and its consequences.
Throughout the two hour running time, the show struggled with the quality of its acting. Trolli and Tankus, though occasionally compelling, usually felt like actors reading their lines instead of real characters. This is similarly true of Thomas’ eye patch-wearing Gatien, whose line delivery was often flat.
There were a few standout performers that helped keep the show afloat, though. About halfway through the first act, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (J.D. Lloyd) saunters on stage in a shimmering evening gown and Marilyn Monroe-style wig. His interactions with bumbling drug enforcement agents Germanowski (Aaron Allshouse) and Gagne (Lyam White) are easily the best in the show. All three actors do a wonderful job with their characters as they try to bust Gatien for his drug trafficking.
One of the best moments of the production occurred when agent Germanowski, exchanging innuendos with Gagne over who will be “pitching that night,” rips open a condom and starts to chew it like a piece of gum, then proceeds to blow it up like a hot dog shaped balloon in front of his face.
It’s moments like these where directors Rodney Shrader and Gary Zinter’s work—they’re famous for their recent production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”—shines. The scenes themselves were well designed, but were constantly hindered by the stumbling acting and low-budget realities of the show. There isn’t much of a set, save for a duct-taped cardboard box containing Angel’s remains, and the prosecutor who sentences Alig is voiced by a guy up in
the tech booth who is very obviously reading from a script. Headed by Seattle stylist artStar, there are several
dance numbers throughout the production that featured only simple choreography and added nothing to the show other than the flourish of fabulous glitter and color expected of clubs in the ‘90s.
That being said, “Sex Drugs Death Disco” never really pretends to be a big-budget production. In some ways, the unrefined nature of the performances makes it a little more admirable. If anything, the show is worth seeing purely because the experience itself is so strange. If you can handle some of the hiccups and appreciate the moments of hilarity, it might be for you. But if you’re looking for something more complex that won’t make you a little squeamish, Re-Bar’s production is probably worth skipping. The show runs until November 23. Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door. Photo ID required.
Sheldon may be reached at [email protected]