Harriet Power sits on a stool at a lightly stocked semi-circle bar in the corner of a spacious music room a block from the Ninth Street Market. She’s watching as a band runs through a driving pop rock song, part of a recording session for the soundtrack of I WILL NOT GO GENTLY.
The show—which Power directs—is the brainchild of Jennifer Childs, artistic director of 1812 Productions. It follows aging rocker Sierra Mist as she prepares for a comeback tour. Childs plays all the parts—rockstar, family, fans, friends—and cowrote all the songs. Childs and 1812 have produced music-heavy shows full of spoof songs, but this venture marks a departure, a yearlong process culminating in a play with music that opens tonight at Plays & Players Theatre and runs through May 15, 2016.
Childs’s musical collaborator, Chris Colucci, plays guitar on the album. In the recording studio a few weeks before the show’s launch he leads bassist Andrew Nelson and drummer Ben Diamond through a take of “Jack in the Box”—a song Childs just finished a few weeks before. Colucci’s whole leg stomps with every foot tap; Nelson’s face contorts in classic bass-player focus; Diamond stoicly keeps beat. Like the other numbers in I WILL NOT GO GENTLY, “Jack in My Box”—which leads off the soundtrack—is an upbeat female-driven rock number in the vein of Liz Phair or Joan Jett.
“You hear the music of our youth,” Childs says between takes. “The songs are still the same, but the performers are thirty years older.” Behind the studio glass, Childs records a guide vocal to the instrumental backing track of the title song, “I will kick and scream,/ I will be extreme,/ I will not go gently.”
The theme of aging pervades I WILL NOT GO GENTLY. The title references Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that good night,/ Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” As a spritely 47-year-old, the onset of middle age is much on Childs’s mind, but coming to terms with it is more about acceptance and thanks than “rage against”—”age gratefully,” as she told Deb Miller in a recent interview with DC Metro Theater Arts.
“I was interested in writing about someone in the entertainment industry because it’s a business that’s not interested in women over 40,” she says.
Onstage and in the recording studio, Childs exudes a youthful energy that belies her age and a creative energy that makes her very much relevant, as this album and show testify. As she puts it, “It’s easier to age gracefully when you’re doing what you love.”
[Plays & Players Theatre, 1713 Delancey Street] April 21-May 15, 2016; 1812productions.org.