It didn’t take long for John Lennon to declare that the dream of the 1960s was over. He probably knew, though, that it would find a way of recurring for a lot of creative people.

“Rock & Roll,” Maine author Kevin O’Leary’s latest play, which is having its world premiere run in the intimate studio theater at Portland Stage, chronicles the ups and downs in the lives of refugees from a flickering countercultural moment.

The play begins in 1969 at a gathering of scruffy buddies who are intent on celebrating the birthday of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. The Stones’ classic album Let It Bleed has just been released and the young revelers are into it as they discuss its meaning for a world falling apart under the weight of the Vietnam war and their own concerns about a less-than-ideal future.

The central character is Rake, a young man who struggles mightily to find the right intellectual formulation that will justify his continued pursuit of a lifestyle defined by sex, drugs and rock & roll.

Sean Ramey gives an all-in performance in the lead role. Not so much a force of nature as of his own obsessions, his Rake is loud and demanding. Yet he commands a loyal following in his basement lair as he seeks to mythologize his cohorts’ rather tenuous grasp on a changing reality.

Helping in the task is Poe (Peter Brown), who is given to reciting gloomy poetry by his namesake while coming up with confections laced with Acapulco Gold. Some of the best moments in the two-hour play come when Rake cedes the floor to his more quietly reflective pals, though even their affection for each other reflects an increasing air of desperation.

Among the others, Chaz (Robbie Harrison) provides comic relief through his slow-to-catch-on reactions while Fen (Kip Davis) offers a more balanced sensibility, at one point warning Rake that his lifestyle is only “for kids.” Rounding out the members of the “band” of friends is the affable Omar (Raheem Brooks), who gets very real in a rant about racism.

Rake (played by Sean Ramey) and Tia (played by Marie Stewart Harmon) in Rock & Roll. Photo by Craig Robinson

Marie Stewart Harmon enters late in the first act as Tia, the love interest of both Fen and Rake. She gives up much to stay with the latter. When act two brings things 20 years forward, Harmon gets to play Tia and Rake’s daughter Jenny, who ministers to the very basic physical and emotional needs of an ailing and only grudgingly repentant Rake.

Whether you buy into Rake’s progress, or find more sympathy for those left in his wake, “Rock & Roll” is a thoughtful elegy for a brief era that was perhaps too vague of purpose to ever truly endure. Except, it does, through the work of those who still feel its power.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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