Cut from the same cloth as Stephen King’s bubblegum-flavored Christine and J.G. Ballard’s fetishistic Crash, the new musical being produced by Mount Vernon College’s In Series, Road Rage, has a plot straight out of Weird Tales: Twenty years after surviving the automobile accident that killed the rest of her family, Ellie, Rage’s protagonist, is being stalked by both faceless nightmare figures and the fast-approaching specter of a killer carcoming, perhaps, to finish the job begun two decades before. Creators Elizabeth Pringle and Chris Forbes make no bones about their musical’s horrific elements. Pringle, who supplied the book and lyrics, believes fear is the real engine that powers carsand that what cars mean to Americans, the transformative powers they have over their drivers, are themes as familiar as they are dark.
“I did a lot of damage to my father’s car when I was in high school, and I remember the sound of steel against steel, that horrible jolting stop,” Pringle says. “A few years ago, I was hit here in Washington while I was on my bike. And then, when I actually got a car, it seemed to me that things only got worse and worse in this town. Behind the wheel, I became demonized. I began to see myself in a whole other light. I could kill someone.”
Luckily, Pringle, whose musical Steak! was produced by Consenting Adults two years ago, redirected her fear and aggression into the creative process, andfinding a sympathetic collaborator in Forbesbegan working on Road Rage in earnest a year ago. What attracted Forbes, mainly a classical composer, to the project was the opportunity to draw on various musical traditions for the score. “There’s some jazzy pieces in it, there’s a tango, there’s a gospel number, there’s rock ‘n’ rollbut all of it is heard through a distorting filter, so it’s quiet edgy,” he explains. “We have one number that if I were to orchestrate it, I would orchestrate it with heavy metal guitars…but it’s even more dissonant than that.”
Pringle believes that the crazy-quilt score illuminates one of the themes she and Forbes dissect in Ragethe way we package and sell ourselves to “make it.” “The farther we got into it, it seemed like indeed we were lifting the skin off the American dream, which is itself a fairy tale, a large myth. So the variations in the different musical motifs also seemed to draw to that as well, as you get into all the various things we do to pawn ourselves to the people who move through our lives,” she explains.
Despite the heavy issues it explores, Road Rage speeds along the median between serious and silly, grim and campy. Forbes in particular revels in this mix. “A lot of the music, as far as I’m concerned, is tongue-in-cheek. We do a song which I hope comes off the way I want it to, which is as a parody of Alanis Morissette and people like that, artists who say a whole lot of stuff about nothing,” he says. “Except, of course, we’re actually saying something.”Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Road Rage will be performed Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 23 & 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hand Chapel at Mount Vernon College. For information and reservations, call (202) 625-4655.