STRONG MUSIC, DANCING DON'T ATONE FOR TROUBLED STORYLINE IN "AMERICAN ROCK FESTIVAL'

Bob GoepfertFor the Knickerbocker News
Section: MAIN,  Page: 15A

Date: Wednesday, March 19, 1986

"An Imaginary Report on an American Rock Festival" based on the novel by Tibor Dery. Hungarian stage adaptation by Sandor Pos. American stage adaptation by W. A. Frankonis. Directed by Rose Deak. Produced by the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts. Through March 23. For ticket information, call 473-3750.


"An Imaginary Report on an American Rock Festival" is a work that is either 20 years after its time, or 20 years ahead of its time. No matter, the production being presented by the Empire State Institute for the Performing Arts at the Egg is a work that has little relevance to the 1980s. Written in 1971 as a short novel by Hungarian author Tibor Dery about the 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Raceway in California, this stage adaptation is mired in the mid- 1960swhen flower children were in full bloom and the drug culture was still in its adolesence.


To a foreign sensibility, the murder of a black man in a crowd of 300,000 by the same people hired to provide security for the concert might seem to reveal the soul of America in a truthful, unguarded moment. If the writer were from an occupied country, the Hells Angels who killed Meredith Hunter might seem like a reincarnation of Nazi storm troopers. Hunter, a black man, could be seen as the new victim, replacing the European Jew as human sacrifice to a decadent society.


This strained viewpoint might have been creditable in 1971 when the "hippie" phenomena still had some legitimacy or it might offer a distanced perspective sometime in the future when the period is ready to be re-examined. Today "An Imaginary Report on an American Rock Festival" is merely a self- conscious piece of theater that is as artifical as the era it is trying toexpose. To make matters worse, the stage adaptation is vague and confusing.


A young Hungarion couple, Jozsef and Ester have seperated. She is in search of laughter and joy, and after meeting him, we can understand why. He is looking for some moral fiber in the assortment of druggies, degenerates and bullies he runs into at the concert.


Thanks to a strong performance by Joseph Larrabee-Quant, who is able to instill some sensitivity into the self- righteous Jozsef, the character is at least believable. Jeanne Vigliante's Ester is saddled with so much confusion and stilted dialogueit is impossible to blend the woman we see with the person about whom we hear so many things.


The work seems like a sequel to "Reefer Madness" with Ester as the central chracter. When Jozsef finally finds her at the festival, she has had her first taste of marijuana. Hurt by hisshocked rejection, she goes off and smokes an entire drugged cigarette. With as much logic as the play can offer, the next day she dies mainlining heroin. See what a corrupt, materialistic society can do to a pleasure- seeking, undisciplined innocent?


Musically, the work is much more successful. Gabor Presser's rock score is served marvelously by musical director Louis St.Louis. This part of the production escapes the time freeze that emasculates most all other elements. Patricia Birch's choreography is fresh and invigorating and brings some emotion to arather sterile piece. She is well served by the ESIPA resident troupe and given a valuable assist by a number of Equity performers imported for the production .


This is a production that will entertain the young in the audience, but if offers little insight to our culture of 20 yearsago. Sadly, it is so naive, it is not even an effective anti-drug statement that could influence today's teenagers.