Original Sound, deftly written by Adam Seidel, explores the idea of what it means to be an original music artist in the age of the Internet, which has made it easy to borrow pieces of others’ work (“sample”) and use in your own. At the center of the story are Danny Solis (the sublime yet down-to-earth Sebastian Chacon), a Nuyorican mix artist who is having a hard time getting by in life because all he wants to do is make music, and Ryan Reed (Jane Bruce, a talented singer/songwriter in her own right) who is an upcoming star with a recording contract.
Ryan and Danny’s paths cross when she samples the hook from one of Danny’s mixes called “Sway” that she found on the Internet. It leads to a hit for her. Danny’s song references a few bars of Ryan’s music, so she doesn’t feel bad taking it. After all, the Internet is an open domain. Danny hears the song on the radio and can’t believe it. When he plays it for his roommate, Kari River (Lio Mehiel), they confirm that it’s Danny’s beat. On the warpath, they set up a meeting to bargain for acknowledgment.
When Danny and Ryan come together under the terms agreed, their initial resentment for each other turns into excitement. Ryan has been haunted by the feeling that she’s a sellout. She tells him, “When the label signed me, I thought it was the answer to everything. And then my producer asks me to alter something in my song, but the way he asks, I know he’s not asking. The change seems little, so I agree. And then he asks for another. And another. And before I know it, I don’t know what the fuck I’m even making and I’m copying songs.” Danny’s love for the music infuses her with renewed optimism. Together, they make castles in the air, sensing they have tapped into something authentic and beautiful (the studio says they haven’t).
Meanwhile, Danny, believing he’s caught his big break, stops making time for Kari, his one true friend whom he used to share everything with. There’s a sting when she confronts him, and when he needs her again, she can no longer be there for him. Ryan’s relationship with her manager (Anthony Arkin) is also fraught with tension. He plays a father figure role in her life and makes decisions for her that, he says, are for her own good. It is the role many managers play, but she resents it and tries to fire him. He doesn’t budge. He knows, more than she, that she needs him. And he’s right.
Set designer Justin Townsend has turned the Cherry Lane Theater Studio, a small and intimate space, into a three-quarter stage that offers a view from all angles. Elena Araoz’s direction keeps things moving and only occasionally does an actor end up with a back to the audience. Scene changes are indicated with lighting (Kate McGee) and sound (Nathan Leigh). Sometimes the music between scenes (of which there are many) takes on a life of its own and, caught up in the groove of a song, it takes a moment to shift attention to the next scene as it gets under way. Luckily, a strong cast doesn’t let that happen completely, and with each scene a new problem unfolds.
The play also explores Danny’s relationship with his family, in particular his father (Wilson Jermaine Heredia, who won a Tony as Angel in the original cast of Rent), a successful musician who has crashed and burned and is now trying to get back on his feet. When Danny has a problem with music, he turns to his dad. After all, as a successful recording artist, who knows the music business better? Danny’s sister (Cynthia Bastidas) warns that his father will only hurt him. Danny is happy to reunite with him even though his father has been absent for years and left the family when Danny was just a small child.
Similar to a Sam Shepard play, betrayal is a thread woven throughout. In Seidel’s play it appears in subtle, yet heartbreaking terms. Danny’s relationship with his father takes many turns and he stumbles, and ultimately falls. As he does with his music. Sometimes the quieter the suffering, the greater the pain. Will he pick himself up and keep going? He’s got the talent and energy, but does he have the resilience?
Original Sound runs through June 8 at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St.). Evening performances are at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 p.m. Saturday; matinees are at 5 p.m. Saturdays. To purchase tickets, call (866) 811-4111, visit the Cherry Lane Theatre box office, or go online cherrylanetheater.org.