One, two, three, four!
Tulsa Project Theatre’s production of ‘Four Chords and a Gun’ keeps pace with a Ramones song
Larz Justice, David Watson, Denny Mask, Seth Paden star in Tulsa Project Theatre’s “Four Chords and a Gun”
From February 16–25, The Tulsa Project Theatre will perform “Four Chords and a Gun,” produced by “The Big Bang Theory” cast member John Ross Bowie. The play focuses on the Ramones’ infamous recording of their fifth album, End of the Century.
The infamy surrounding the recording session was produced mostly by Phil Spector. Known for his “Wall of Sound” recording techniques and notorious for his perfectionism and violence, Spector made the Ramones repeat single licks for hours on end, racking up a $500,000 price tag.
He also allegedly held them at gunpoint.
Bowie used that perhaps-true story of the gun as a starting point in his historical revisionist punk rock non-musical. The conflicting nature of the real-life Ramones’ biographies, interviews, and oral history contributions inform the “wait, did this actually happen?” fluidity of the play’s handling of history.
Most people who know Bowie as Barry on “The Big Bang Theory” might be surprised to learn of his punk roots.
“It’s funny because I’m into my 40s now and must look very much like a middle-aged guy on a sitcom,” Bowie said. “But that means I was a teen when the Circle Jerks were touring, or the Adolescents or the Ramones. That was my classic rock … going to see those bands when they played New York.”
Bowie says his introduction to punk “was the Ramones.”
“I bought a cassette of theirs at Tower Records, East Lincoln Center when I was 14,” he said. “That led me to a pretty huge record collection and a collection of punk history books, like ‘Please Kill Me’ and ‘I Slept With Joey Ramone.’ They’re as decadent as any rock book, but the stakes are higher because no one has any money.”
“Four Chords and a Gun” is the culmination of the actor’s decades-long obsession with the Ramones. So far it has only been performed in Los Angeles, but it will play in Tulsa as a test before moving to larger markets.
“Tulsa came to us!” Bowie said. “I wasn’t familiar with Tulsa Project Theatre, but the more I look into them, the more I realize it’s the perfect place for this play. They’ve done ‘Rent,’ they’ve done ‘Tommy.’ Our director played Hedwig at one point … they’re clearly interested in the intersection between rock and theater, and so am I.”
The director who played Hedwig (in a production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) is Matt Brown. Brown serves as the artistic director for Tulsa Project Theatre. “Four Chords and a Gun” was originally shopped to a theater friend of Brown’s in Oklahoma City, who promptly turned it over to TPT, what they believed was its proper home.
“This play maintains the sensibilities of what we’re trying to do, without being a musical,” Brown said.
“You know when you pick up a book and see an opening line that just lights the dynamite?” Tulsa Project Theatre Executive Director Denny Mask said. “The first time I read this play’s opening monologue, I felt that.” Mask also plays Joey Ramone.
That opening monologue serves as one of Dee Dee Ramone’s eternal “One, Two, Three, Four!”s, and sets the stage for a 100-minute show that, according to Brown, “has the pace of a Ramones song.”
Brown and Mask say the play features minimal glue-sniffing and eschews the more lurid aspects of the punk pioneers to highlight their dynamic as a group who put aside heated differences to punch the clock together as coworkers. Bowie says this aspect sparked his original interest in the Ramones.
“I loved the family dynamic, and I love the way that was heightened by everybody sharing the same stage name,” Bowie said. “I loved how the band—particularly Johnny—viewed the band as a job. So much of their career, particularly about the recording of this album, is about the relationship between art and work.”
Four Chords and a Gun
Feb. 16–17, 22–24 at 8 p.m., Feb. 18, 24–25 at 2 p.m.
Charles E. Norman Theatre, Tulsa PAC
110 E. 2nd St.