- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the boys in the band. They look like Kiss and sound like Meat Loaf. They’re called the Diamond Dead, and they’re, well, dead.

It’s the latest permutation of zombie entertainment from Brian Cooper and fear-film guru George A. Romero (“Night of the Living Dead”), who co-wrote a screenplay, still a work in progress, about the mummified return of this, ahem, underground band.

But “Diamond Dead” the movie — with heavyweights such as Ridley Scott and Takashi Miike reportedly attached to it — is at least a year away from production. As an experimental place holder, we have “Diamond Dead,” a shock-rock musical adapted for the stage by the Landless Theatre Company’s Andrew Lloyd Baughman and directed by Shirley Serotsky.

Mr. “Rocky Horror Show” himself, Richard Hartley, composed the band’s tunes and was in the dark and dank performance space of the D.C. Arts Center last weekend to see what these “Dead”-heads have wrought.

Lord knows whether Mr. Hartley was pleased, but from here, “Diamond Dead” seems a bit of a mess, and a self-conscious one at that. For starters, the impish-humored folks at Landless very much want you to think something scandalous is afoot. Before you even walk into the theater, a tubby dude dressed like a Protestant clergyman warns in stentorian tones that you should turn around and save your mortal soul.

The producers also have tried to make Marilyn Manson hay out of a lone Scotsman’s efforts to get the play and movie banned on grounds of anti-Christian bigotry.

Methinks they protest about protest too much.

“Dead” brims with R-rated humor, cannibalism jokes and sadomasochistic paraphernalia, but, really, it means well. It does try to wring romance from all the sinister white face paint and necrophilia. Way back in the ‘80s, you see, Aria (Rachel Warren, a sex-shop Cher in silver moon boots) wanted to sing for the Diamond Dead and had a thing for frontman Dr. Diabolicus (Mr. Baughman, looking like the Cure’s Robert Smith after a night in the tomb).

But the musicians — the back line includes F-bomb-dropping drummer Bangz (Rob Ebbin), devilish puppeteer bassist Spyder Syn (Josh Speerstra) and transsexual singer Glitter (William Morris) — end up dying in a horrific “Spinal Tap”-ian subwoofer explosion. Disconsolate, Aria makes a Grim Reaper deal with Death: Bring the boys back to life in exchange for 365 new corpses.

Diamond Dead comes back to life, sort of, and if I’ve followed the story correctly, Dr. Diabolicus and lovelorn Aria plan to use the band’s considerable following — as well as the persistent attention of a music-TV video jockey (Kathleen Gonzales) — to make good on the 365-corpses end of the deal.

That’s about where I got distracted. (Or was it when we were all prompted to munch on a chocolate bar shaped like a human ear?) Soon, the play is punning on President Bush, propounding on gun control and preaching compassion for outcasts through a pothead Jesus (Ernie Achenbach).

Hmm; I can’t remember if all that came before or after the clergyman character wound up on his knees, in boxer shorts, chained to a leash at the foot of a Diamond Dead vixen named Veronica Vinyl (Patricia Penn). Color him defrocked.

There’s something lame about a production (or a movie, book or piece of art) that tries so desperately to shock. It cheapens itself to death. “Diamond Dead” piles on so many taboo twisters and sacrileges, you barely have time to process the smarter of its one-liners. Matthew Baughman, for instance, plays a crazed Diamond Dead-head named Jack who moves in and out of the action, sometimes on video footage taped on 18th Street NW, with consistent deadpans. But he’s a mere sideshow.

Much louder is Glitter, the poor man’s Carson Kressley, dressed in see-through mesh and neon bikini briefs and swooning through a Shakespearean death scene. Everyone sings (no one particularly well), Mr. Hartley’s riffs and melodies are dreadfully dated, and plotlines careen at high speeds.

We’re supposed to pluck the Rasta Christ’s message of love from all this wreckage?

**

WHAT: “Diamond Dead” by Andrew Lloyd Baughman, based on screenplay by Brian Cooper and George A. Romero.

WHERE: D.C. Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Sunday Oct. 24 at noon. Through Oct. 30.

TICKETS: $20

PHONE: 202/462-7833

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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