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Steppenwolf's 'How To Be A Rock Critic' Brings You Face-To-Face With Lester Bangs And Some Pretty Deep Truth

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 17, 2017 7:08PM

Erik Jensen's channeling of Lester Bangs is both eye-opening and mind-blowing.

How To Be A Rock Critic is the one-man show at Steppenwolf's 1700 theater created by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, and starring Jensen as legendary music writer Lester Bangs. The play uses Bangs' life and writings to explore the critic's drive to uncover deeper truths through the purifying lens of what many may write off as simple cultural pop art. And it does so with humor, electric passion, and a dose of paranoia as the price the hunt for perfect moments to make sense of a tumultuous world extract on the true seeker.

It jumps from uncovering the hidden intricacies of something as basic as a Troggs single, facing the inhuman brutality of a room full of Hell's Angels and the psychic payoff that demands, and the sad spiral into the numbing effects of numerous substances when these mental journeys become too taxing. Jensen's portrayal of Bangs is breathtaking, channeling the verbose writer's manic spirit and deep humanity while never taking the easy route of turning the highs and lows of his life into a cartoonish caricature.

The production mixes scripted material with improvisational audience interaction—you get the real feel for what it would've been like to be locking horns with the charismatic Bangs in the midst of a deep philosophical discussion at 3 a.m. fueled by a mixture of booze, cough syrup and speed. And if you're really lucky you may walk out with shards of a broken record or some other piece of esoterica Bangs may loot from his own "living room."

You leave the room with a new appreciation for Bangs (if you weren't already either a fan or familiar with his work) and, hopefully, a fresh grasp on why rock writing isn't just a case of "you're wrong and I'm right." It's about context and passion and a belief that there is truth in a single song that can change your life. The play has just announced its extending its run through the end of July, so if you haven't already gotten tickets to one of the most exciting pieces of theater on the Chicago scene, now's your chance.

How To Be A Rock Critic has performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays at 3:30 p.m. and 8.p.m. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased in person through Audience Services (1650 N. Halsted St.), over the phone at 312-335-1650 or online.

A number of performances feature additional musical guests and post-show discussions. David Singer & The Sweet Science will play "some of Lester Bangs’s personal favorite songs and artists" after the July 20 to 22 shows. And the July 22 Saturday matinee will be followed by a discussion with music critic / Lester Bangs biographer / Brian Eno fan / Sound Opinions host Jim DeRogatis, Blank, and Jensen.