“Please allow me to introduce myself/I’m a man of wealth and taste/I’ve been around for a long, long year/stole many a man’s soul and faith.” These are the initial lyrics to “Sympathy for the Devil,” the first song in the Rolling Stones’ album Beggars Banquet. The song was released in ’68, and its provocative lyrics were popular and well suited to the social turmoil of perhaps the most important year within a decade of mass youth discontent; a decade of rebellion and rock and roll, of youthful idealism and word-wide activism.
More than forty years later, writer-director Ronan Marra tells the story of Brian Jones, a founding member of the Rolling Stones, and his rock-star deterioration into substance abuse, violence and, eventually, his death at the age of 27. Aftermath, playing at the Raven Theatre, offers us a glimpse into the origins of the band that never surrendered the fight for rock and roll.
Joseph Stearns as Keith Richards is frustrating to watch. On the one hand, his representation of a suave, careless, and sinful rock star is credible; on the other hand, his stage presence is nothing compared to the demonic authority of the real Sir Richards—the junkie guitarist that survived rock and roll, the rock star that proved to the world that leading a life immersed in drugs, alcohol, and sex does not necessarily kill you. Rock critic Nick Kent described Keith as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” and others have taken Richards to another level, suggesting that the only plausible explanation to why he has survived so many years of substance abuse is that he is “the devil in person.” Joseph Stearns is talented and has a rock-star attitude similar to an amateur guitarist; his talent, both as an actor and as a musician, shines at many points during the play. However, he just doesn’t resemble Keith Richards, and his interpretation is far from mystical or “godlike.” Stearns could be a high-school rock star, but he is no devil.
Nick Vidal as Mick Jagger, on the other hand, is surprisingly powerful. The physical resemblance between Vidal and Jagger is astonishing. But not only does he look like Jagger, he also sings, “backward marches,” moves, dances, crawls, vibrates, and explodes to rock-and-roll music like Jagger. He performs “Paint it Black” and “Satisfaction,” among others, with an attitude that encompasses the rebellious, sexually provocative, controversial attitude of the youth in the ’60s and ’70s. But his rock-star attitude is not limited to his musical displays. Vidal’s portrayal of the discontent, cocky, and aggressive character of the rock star is engaging and consistent throughout the performance, and is done with talent and conviction.
Aaron Snook as Brian Jones is similarly talented and presents a foil to Jagger’s character as the “sensitive, feminine, and sexually awkward rock-and-roll star.” His character represents the other type of rebellious rock star, the passive form that manifests discontent through bizarre behavior and bisexual attitudes. Snook’s Jones is the Andy Warhol and David Bowie type of rebel that is sensitive and feminine while still managing to shock.
The live songs are well accomplished and, although Joseph Stearns lacks Keith Richards’s stage presence, the music and live performance is as good as that performed by any professional imitation group. Perhaps the show’s most fatal error is in the looseness and anti-climatic nature of the story. Brian Jones and his “groupie/wife” Anita don’t have any chemistry, and the dialogue between them seems awkward and out of time. A less obvious but equally problematic error in timing and textual emphasis seems to occur between the members of the band. In fact, the only character relationship that shines is the friendship between Brian Jones and George Harrison. This spiritual, free, and agreeable relationship is successfully achieved largely thanks to Andrew Yearick’s brilliant representation of George Harrison.
At many points during the play, Brian Jones refers to the Rolling Stones as “the band that is going to change the history of rock and roll.” If anything, the Rolling Stones changed the history of rock and roll because they continue to play with the same strength and genius—because they survived the death of rock and roll. Aftermath is an entertaining glimpse into the origins of the band that survived; the story is loose, but the music is enjoyable and a well-done imitation of the group. It is not a performance that is close to watching the Rolling Stones play, but I’m not sure if any performance will ever be.