John Ross Bowie’s 90-minute drama purports to be about the creation of the Ramones’ album End of the Century, but it’s actually about a quartet of posturing man-children whose most memorable characteristics are homophobia, misogyny, and surliness.
In addition to the four Ramones (Justin Goodhand as Joey, Cyrus Lane as Johnny, Paolo Santalucia as Dee Dee, and James Smith as Marky), Bowie gives us a camped-up version of record producer Phil Spector (Ron Pederson), seen here as a pistol-packing cross between Liberace and the drill sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. There is no exploration whatsoever of the Ramones’ groundbreaking and enduring influence on punk and rock. There is no contextual information about the culture that sparked punk’s emphatic, uncompromising rebellion against the status quo. There is nothing about the very ethos of punk—a form of music fueled by rage and frustration and profound alienation.
Director Richard Ouzounian gives the audience a portrait not of the artists as young men, but of young men mired in the pettiness and petulance of perpetual adolescence. Bowie’s script is also rife with casually vicious homophobia and misogyny. It’s set in 1979, so the slurs are historically accurate. But Bowie does nothing to explore them, merely loading up the dialogue with the kind of unexamined hatefulness that turns the Ramones into a group of blokes you’d want nothing to do with. In Four Chords and a Gun, they come across as both despicable and forgettable, a lethal combination for any drama. A postshow concert makes the massive drum kit upstage center more than mere decoration, but getting through the play that precedes it is more grim march than joyous mosh. v