Ordeal by audition: young performers face the rock recording world

American days, Comedy, by Stephen Poliakoff. Directed by Jaques Levy The horrors of the recording industry (rock division) are painfully depicted in the grotesque new British import at the Manhattan Theater Club. Set in the labyrinthine reaches of a US-owned multinational corporation, this play assembles three young would-be performers and dramatizes their ordeal by audition at the hands of an egomaniacal company executive.

The subculture world of packaged cacophony is effectively conveyed in the performance staged by Jacques Levy. The actors created believable portraits of the mutually hostile forces engaged in an uneven confrontation: on the one side, the all-powerful media moguls and on the other, the raw competing young talents ambitious to become stars on the charts. Unfortunately, interest in who gets the contract tends to diminish as Mr. Poliokov stretches out the agony.

As the record firm's ruthless top talent spotter, the brilliant Tom Shea creates a figure of laid-back arrogance, a puppet master with no heart to his strings. An airborne transient who lives his life in far-flung offices with wall-to-wall carpeting. When he misses a flight, it is as if his life-support systems have suddenly and simultaneously failed. He is a Concorde-jet Svengali whose striving young musicians provide him with a fierce but short-lived vital energy.

To match Mr. Shea's daunting suavity required a trio of players capable of projecting the mingled determination, defiance, desperation, and vulnerability of the young working-class hopefuls. The requirements have been met with a tough kind of sensibility by Pippa Parthree as the scruffy survivor of the contestants, Anna Levine as the flashy exotic, and John Snyder as the shock-rocker aggressively bent on singing songs of social significance. Alexander Spencer as a nervous talent scout and David Blue as a former star complete this slice-of-life portrait of sleazy exploitation amid the discreet interior decoration of the recording company's London listening room.

Mr. Poliokof's own astute. listening imbues his caustic satire with a persuasively authentic realism. But there is an alienating meanness and hollowness about "American Days" that leads to an ultimate sense of dissatisfaction. Its observations are sharp but its emotions don't run very deep. The pleasures of the occasion derive mainly from performance and production, with appropriate credits to Andrew Jackness (setting), Kenneth M. Yount (costumes) and Dennis Parichy (lighting). The music is by Urban Blight, a rock sext et whose oldest member is only 20.

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