Of the myriad problems that permeate this Louise Newmark "play with music," the biggest comes soon after the opening, when the lead character, Johnny (Greg Magnuson), tells the audience to join him on the two-hour roller-coaster journey through his life as a budding rock star. It's clear after five minutes that this train wreck will continue to degrade with each passing minute, so revealing the running time makes the rest of the production torturous. With a plot that pales to a poorly constructed long-form improv piece, and acting that resembles a first rehearsal in a high school drama class, Gangster and the Cradle Rockers could almost succeed if it were played as a parody of bad theatre. But Newmark, who also serves as co-director with Richard A. Steel, is making an attempt at telling a serious story, which makes it simultaneously unintentionally funny and thoroughly embarrassing to watch.
The story line is all over the map, with a timeline that defies explanation. Johnny is the leader of a rock band, which includes his wife, Starr (Fri Forjindam), and close friend, Mango (Jeff Hall). The band doesn't make much money, so Johnny sells cocaine to make ends meet. But he runs afoul of his supplier, George (Robert Factor), who threatens to kill him. The rest is Johnny reliving the days when he fell in love with Starr, and the story of how his life was ruined by drugs. A few songs are interspersed into the hodgepodge of scenes.
Was it that Magnuson and the rest of the cast don't know their lines or that Newmark simply gave them an outline and asked them to wing it? Dialogue is repeated numerous times, and expletives are frequently used as placeholders while actors seem to be trying to recall what to say next. There is no character development by anyone. The most ridiculous performance belongs to Factor, who as George seems to be channeling the spirit of a drug kingpin stereotype Latino from 1970s cop shows. Magnuson can sing fairly well, but his acting is so bland it completely overshadows his musical abilities. Though two directors are listed, it seems directionless. No one knows where to stand, how to respond to each situation, and where to go during blackouts. It's hard to imagine there was a single rehearsal prior to opening night-not that it would help raise the quality even a bit.
Presented by Scorpio II Theatre Productions at the Ruby Theatre at The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jun. 8-Jul. 9. (626) 683-9094.