anti-war messages via techno-industrial opera
Combat soldiers rock ’n’ load in ‘Party Time’

by jonathan warman
ny blade

The Talking Band’s “Party Time” is easily the best loud techno-industrial opera around. That isn’t damning with faint praise—how you respond to the phrase “loud techno-industrial opera” will reflect how much you enjoy this show. I used to just love this kind of production, and I’ve rarely seen it done better.

 “Opera” is the one part of that description that might be a little bit deceptive. Like in operas, sung passages often replace what would be dialogue in most shows. But while some of composer Peter Gordon’s melodies are as complex as any in opera, the singing in her  is done in a full throated rock-pop style.

 “Party Time” is about Frankie (Will Badgett) and Sal (Joe Roseto), American soldiers in an armored combat vehicle engaged in a desert war. It could be easily be either the first Gulf War or the current Gulf War II. The information they receive about allies, enemies and the surrounding terrain is transmitted to them by the electronic equipment of the tank—radio, radar and video, vividly evoked by Kit Fitzgerald’s video design.

 These guys are a couple of brutal ignoramuses, with appalling racist prejudices informing their every decision. Yet they are still on some level a couple of sensitive souls, revealed in the most human of situations—two people facing death. They get lost and descend into a hell of boredom and paranoia, with diversions, comedy and even flashes of deep insight along the way.

 In the powerful song “Every Day Brings Us Closer to Dying”—which breaks with the techno feel of the show to deliver soulful directness—Frankie comes to uneasy terms with his own fragility and mortality. “Party Time” is a strong anti-war statement, showing that even bigoted thugs like these two have their humanity painfully ripped from them by war’s random violence.

 Paul Zimet’s smart and kinetic direction lifts the whole production to a higher level. Badgett and Roseto both give committed and disciplined performances. If you can deal with the volume, “Party Time,” is intelligent—and thwacking good—theater.