Theater

Van Halen Rocks to Life in Eddie and Dave — With an All-Female Band

Candace Joice (left) and Missy Moore in Eddie and Dave.
Candace Joice (left) and Missy Moore in Eddie and Dave. The Catamounts
It’s become a truism — at least in anthropological circles — that the old ways of looking at sex and gender are simplistic and reductive. Human beings can’t be divided only into male or female. Some people are born with ambiguous sexual characteristics; shifts in gender can also be cultural, emotional, psychological, behavioral. And hormonal. Like so much in the crazy current scene, this fact has been politicized, with arguments flying about who uses what bathroom and whether transgender kids should be allowed to play sports at school. There have also been savage attacks on trans and gender-non-conforming people. Local theaters have taken note of this, mounting relevant plays and casting across apparent racial, social and sexual barriers.

Led by artistic director Amanda Berg Wilson, the Catamounts have dipped into these waters, too, presenting Lauren Gunderson’s The Taming in 2016 and, three years ago, Men In Boats, by Jaclyn Bakhaus, a play about John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition to chart the Colorado River written for an all-female cast.

Berg Wilson admires serious work on the topic. “I’ve long been fascinated by this convention that several new shows use iconic American archetypes, stories that historically are about white men and they get to be played by not white men," she says. "That this wonderful thing, which feels uniquely theatrical to me, both points toward looking at those myths through a different lens and toward a future where perhaps all myths won’t be constructed around a white male persona, and we’ll explore who is going to occupy those spaces.”

Still, she feels this is a good time for something gender-bending that’s light, comic and purely pleasurable. “I thought audiences might enjoy a respite,” she explains. The result is the regional premiere of Eddie and Dave, a ninety-minute, full-throated fan tribute to Van Halen by playwright Amy Staats starring Christopher Berghoff and a group of the area’s liveliest and brightest female performers: Janae Burris, Candace Joice, Alicia “Lisa” Young and Missy Moore, who plays David Lee Roth. The show opens Saturday, November 6, at the People's Building in Aurora.

Van Halen provided much of the soundtrack for her own life as “a historical child of the 1970s, ‘80s and early ’90s. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug,” Berg Wilson notes. “I really feel that more and more these days.”

She and Joice, who plays Eddie Van Halen, find multiple love stories in the script. “One is between these two egotistical men, both intensely talented but with different ideas about the band and both dependent on each other,” says Berg Wilson. “There’s the love story about two brothers. The two stuck by each other until Eddie’s death last year. The narrator of the play is a veejay, and it’s kind of her talking about this band. All of her sense of when she was cool and things were glorious is wrapped up in their history.”

In Van Halen, she adds, “We essentially have men who did the fascinating thing about being kind of femme and sort of cock-swingy at the same time. They had long hair and wore tights, were very masculine and wore makeup. These days we’re tackling it from the perspective that we’re not as binary as people once thought, but rock stars have been playing with gender for a long time — Bowie, Prince, Jagger. I love that. There’s something about a rock star personality that transcends gender.”

Although the Catamounts stayed active during the past year, working virtually or outdoors — at one point on a golf course in collaboration with the City of Westminster with audience members circulating in carts —Berg Wilson finds being back in an indoor setting exhilarating. “Real physical proximity is great,” she says. “We’re very diligent about testing, safety — everyone’s vaccinated — and it’s just been so good. I feel I can exhale going back to creating theater on a stage with lights and costumes and everybody back in the same space.”
click to enlarge Candace Joice as Eddie Van Halen. - THE CATAMOUNTS
Candace Joice as Eddie Van Halen.
The Catamounts
Joice echoes Berg Wilson’s enthusiasm for the show. “It’s about rock stars, larger-than-life people that so many people grew up admiring and listening to,” she says. “It should be great fun for the audience to come and rock out with us. We have a fantastic sound designer. There’s not live singing or instrumentation, but there is music cleverly shared.” The sound designer is CeCe Smith.

Joice is particularly intrigued with her role. “Any time you play a character who presents differently in the world than you physically do is a treat for an actor," she explains. "You're still pulling from your own identity and observations in the world. Here you go bigger and differently than you normally might do. It’s about embracing not just the opposite gender, the male identity, but a heightened form of it, the rock-star male persona. There’s an extra layer to that.

“Leading up to the audition," Joice continues, "I was watching Eddie Van Halen a lot on YouTube. How does he hold that guitar? Look what he’s doing with his hair, with his cigarette. There’s so much great source material to not just create this male character, but someone real.” Through her research, she adds, she's figuring how to "capture the essence of this person" so that she won’t just be impersonating the star.

Both Joice and Berg Wilson stress that Eddie and Dave offers enjoyment as well as some depth. “You’ll laugh,” says Joice, “but also have feelings about what you’re seeing.”

Eddie and Dave opens at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 6, and runs through November 28 at the People's Building of Aurora, 9995 East Colfax Avenue. For a complete schedule and tickets, go to thecatamounts.org.
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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman