Robert Attenweiler’s …and we all wore leather pants.
Tire-deprived cars splayed out on concrete blocks littering lawns in need of mowing. AC/DC and Ratt t-shirts, the sleeves of which must be ripped before the shirts can be worn with dignity. Angry mutters carrying talk of auto plants and every kind of mill slamming closed their doors, blame that bastard Reagan if you please.
East Village theatrical auteur Robert Attenweiler wants to thrust you into a time and place when working men and women were taunted by visions of escape via gigantic hair, double-necked guitars, painted fingernails, and pretty men screeching in three-part harmony. His latest play, …and we all wore leather pants, revolves around a working-class family toiling away in middle America circa 1985. The narrative employs a vivid combination of harsh realism and magical levity to explore the relationship between myth, identity, and class.
“Historically, the lore and literature of those on the down side of any economic divide have often had connections to magical realism,” says Attenweiler. “Being chased by a lynch mob, the freed slave—with the help of ancestral spirits—turns into a bird and flies away. In Latin-American literature, when an impoverished woman cries over her missing fisherman husband, huge waves rise up and wash his boat to her doorstep.”
Writing about the rock-n-roll days of his Ohio youth, Attenweiler developed a strong belief that working-class America has either been denied a direct connection to magic and fantasy or has chosen to deny itself this connection. “Magical realism gives its underserved characters a feeling of being in tune with something greater, of not always being without power in their lives,” he says. “Working-class America has sports, rock ‘n roll, drugs, religion, but that’s all stuff that seems to come back to bite us in the ass rather than taking us someplace higher.”
The narrative of leather pants centers around the Sturgess family – self-destructive patriarch Blanton and brothers Jagger (who “might be a famous hair-metal musician, might be a local mechanic”) and Krank, who has formed his own one-man hardcore band called Me. Going with the glam-rock vs. hardcore clash as social metaphor was an easy choice for Attenweiler. “For about four or five years in the ‘80s, hair-metal was the pop music, that is to say the popular music; hardcore was its antithesis,” he says. “Fans of both camps would argue that the two movements couldn’t be more different, but they seem similar to me. Sure, hardcore often had more of a political platform, and rejected all of the so-called emptiness of the fortune and fame sought by hair bands. But looking back, hardcore seems wrapped in a sheet of pretensions just as thick as the one worn by Motley Crue. Both genres proscribed a lifestyle and both said a lot about that time in our country. This was something I realized I could have fun with while exploring notions of identity and myth.”
When he talks about his new play, Attenweiler often pushes the glam-rock angle to the story, but don’t be fooled—as an artist, Attenweiler is punk rock all the way. As founder, producer, and resident playwright of Disgraced Productions (which in the last two years, has given life to five new plays), Attenweiler embraces the D.I.Y. work aesthetic of the hardcore scene. He funds all of his shows out-of-pocket. He has little interest in refinement. “I want to give an audience new work that’s ripe with originality and mistakes, not filtered through a dozen eyes brought upon by a development process.” He’s quick to concede that many projects benefit from longer periods of development, but insists upon the excitement found when an artist follows impulse and courts spontaneity. Pressed to talk about whether his theatrical approach grew out of choice or necessity, Attenweiler dodges, focuses on the positive—“It’s exciting when you find that you trust yourself to make something on your own terms that’s worth watching. And I’m stupid lucky to have actors and directors around who know that the huge grants aren’t coming but will still get in the sandbox and play with me.”
As with all of his plays, a wry sense of dichotomy and humor permeates leather pants. Attenweiler loves to assert the D.I.Y. theatrical aesthetic he’s adopted (“I’m proud to say that after two years, Disgraced Productions has raised a staggering one-hundred and eighty dollars in donations”), but a close look at the lead character, Krank, finds the author simultaneously celebrating and poking fun at his own sense of identity: “I never want to make any money doin’ it. I’m not doin’ it so someone’ll say I’m talented. Completely devoid of financial support, patronage, or public interest. My most original creative thoughts will be forgotten as soon as I forget them. That will be my legacy.”
...and we all wore leather pants runs Sept. 6 through Sept. 29 at Under St. Mark’s, 94 St. Mark’s Place at 1st Ave., tickets $18, $12 for students/seniors. Visit www.theatermania.com for tickets or call (212) 868-4444.
Barton Bishop writes plays and turns Japanese cartoons into American cartoons.