The End of the World as We Know It

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:14





      Almost every New Yorker— and every filmmaker—assumes that when the apocalypse happens, the whole thing will go down right here. And there isn’t a creepier or more apropos part of New York to welcome Armageddon than Coney Island. At least, that’s the thinking behind quintet Less the Band’s new performance-art piece (“concert” is too flimsy a word for what they’re planning) Astroland.

    “Basically, there’s a migration of people boarding subway trains that suddenly appear in cornfields,” band member—and Pulitzer Prize–nominated playwright—Adam Rapp explains over coffee. “They’re heading to Coney Island for this deliverance. And this guy Steve and Molly fall in love and it becomes sort of a triangulated love story.”

    Band member Ray Rizzo chimes in, saying, “That much we all agree on!” Obviously, the complicated musical story is still being refined.

    Though Less the Band has been operating as a group for almost a decade, its current incarnation (with five members, all of whom contribute vocals) is a direct result of Rapp’s 2004 play Finer Noble Gases. All of the current band members played, er…band members in the original New York production, but Rapp wasn’t onstage until its run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, when he had to tweak the show and needed another performer at the last minute.

    After four years, these guys have the easy rapport of successful collaborators. And all of them seem to have found their niche in the band.While Paul Sparks and Michael Chernus (guitar and bass, respectively) were unable to meet, Rapp, Rizzo and Rob Beitzel all seem comfortable in their various roles, as the conversation bounces from one to another.

    Beitzel is the quiet, serious one on guitar; Rizzo, who has been playing in bands for years, plays the drums and is their “guru and arranger”; and Rapp brings along another guitar and a certain gravitas, undercut by flashes of self-deprecating humor, as when he acknowledges that his bandmates make him feel as if he’s listening to “Carl Sagan’s illegitimate children.”Which is all for the best, since Astroland could never have sprung from just one man’s brain.

    “The way we work best is when no one totally gets their way,” Rizzo says. “All the best ideas fed off each other. But for me, it’s amazingly inspiring and moving and quirky and rather riveting.”

    In fact, the current show came about when Beitzel suggested everyone record his own version of the story. “You’d sit there listening on your iPod to what someone else thinks is happening,” he says. “So there were five versions floating around, and we took a trip to Cornwall and holed up. And we had

    these 12 Stations of the Cross, a basic through line that we could all agree on.” But before all of that, Rizzo adds, there were the songs. “It all grew out of this universe that we were creating the moment we started writing songs. And before long, this canon we had built was kind of dreaming its own dreams and had its own context that became a real important component to a band. Ideas of guys having nightmares about becoming robots. Logically, you’re not necessarily going to follow a lyric the way you’d follow a typical rock song. I still can’t describe Less the Band,” he laughs.

    While the band planned on tweaking the show until the first performance, it has settled on a whole roster of contributors and guest stars. “We gave those 12 stations to [artist] Danica Novgorodoff, who’s working on the graphic novel,” Rapp says. “And Graham Waterston is doing the video stuff, and [actress] Annie Parisse is doing photos.

    We have aerialist Una Mimnagh, and this bee sequence and a guest soloist every night,” he continues, “including Steve Salett from The King of France,Tyrone Cotton and Lia Ices.This thing has expanded into media, and some of it’s going to be really abstract.The organism is going to keep refining itself. It’s an enormous beast.”

    Rizzo agrees, saying, “I think our shows are sort of like an artificial Christmas tree, and up until the last minute we keep hanging the ornaments up.” So what will the star on top be? “Collective nudity,” Rapp deadpans. -- Less the Band Dec. 10–13. The Kitchen, 512 W. 19th St. (betw. 10th & 11th Aves.), 212-255-5793; 8, $15. --