Review: In ‘Eddie and Dave,’ Van Halen Gets a Makeover | Modern Society of USA

Review: In ‘Eddie and Dave,’ Van Halen Gets a Makeover

Review: In ‘Eddie and Dave,’ Van Halen Gets a Makeover

When it comes to glamorous drag, men who impersonate women have traditionally had an unfair advantage over their female counterparts. Just think of the boundlessly flamboyant options available for guys to transform into gals: baubles, boas, high heels, bouffants, ad infinitum.

As for women doing men, what’s their choice, really, beyond business suits and sloppy sweats?

“Eddie and Dave,” the larky if bloated sketch of a bio-comedy that opened on Tuesday at Stage 2 of the Atlantic Theater Company, helps to correct that imbalance. Its title characters, based on the original guitarist and lead singer of the chart-topping band Van Halen, are indeed men portrayed by women.

But these figures hail from the 1980s, a decade in which big hair and glam metal rock ruled the airwaves. The professional (and often offstage) attire of the male musicians who practiced this earsplitting art embraced a peacock panoply of baubles, boas, high heels and, yes, bouffant coiffures. And it was a look worn not with Dietrich-style elegance, but with swaggering and sweaty machismo.

The female cast members of “Eddie and Dave,” written by Amy Staats and directed by Margot Bordelon, appear to be having a high old time finding the testosterone within their characters’ teased hair. Swathed in costumes (by Montana Levi Blanco) that might have come from a Ziegfeld girl’s trunk and wigs (by Cookie Jordan) that could house a family of squirrels, the angry young rockers of this rambunctious play demonstrate that wearing sequins and fishnets is no guarantee against bad-boy behavior.

Even by the tumultuous standards of hard rock relationships, Van Halen was notable for its break-up-make-up infighting. Created by the Dutch-born Van Halen brothers, Al (Adina Verson) and the guitar genius Eddie (Ms. Staats), this California-bred group found its mojo when the charismatic, turbocharged David Lee Roth (Megan Hill) became their lead singer.

Clashes between the introverted, artistically ambitious Eddie and the show-off, crowd-pleasing Diamond Dave (as he was known) were commonplace from the beginning, and reached a very public and mortifying climax when the (temporarily reunited) band appeared onstage at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards. That’s the taking-off point for a journey into flashbacks, narrated by a former music reporter and video jockey, identified only as MTV VJ (a wired but weary Vanessa Aspillaga).

Initially, this is pretty funny. So are the deadpan fraternal personae of Ms. Staats and Ms. Verson, contrasted with the grandstanding extroversion of Ms. Hill’s Dave. Wittiest of all perhaps is the presentation of Van Halen’s fourth member, the bassist Michael Anthony, portrayed by a framed photograph, which is only occasionally acknowledged by the others.

Ultimately, though, the comedy is too blunt and repetitive to sustain the 90 uninterrupted minutes of “Eddie and Dave.” Ms. Staats (who appeared memorably in the Mad Ones’ brilliant “Miles for Mary”) avoids the sharp, satirical focus of the classic rock-mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap.” Her approach is both sloppier and more sincere.

“Eddie and Dave” is, in part, a burned-out fan’s notes, via MTV VJ, who has a scrapbook of a mind that blurs firsthand observation with tabloid headlines. If you do not belong to that category yourself, you may be a bit baffled (or bored) by re-enactments of events like that notorious MTV awards appearance.

There is throughout, though, a mind-bending glee in watching women taking on the extravagant guises of hot-dog rock ’n’ rollers, who for all their strutting machismo never grow into manhood. By the way, “Eddie and Dave” does feature one notable female character other than MTV VJ. That’s Valerie Bertinelli, the sitcom star who married Eddie, played here by Omer Abbas Salem.

The outfits worn by Mr. Salem, it should be noted, are models of understatement compared to the get-ups of the Van Halen boys. Though she is inflected with ripples of silly celebrity shallowness, Mr. Salem’s Val nonetheless registers as the sanest person in the room. Even when it’s cross-dress-up time, it evidently takes a woman to be an adult in the excessive ’80s.

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