Almost 30 years since the original release of Frank Zappa’s unrealized stage play Joe’s Garage, director Pat Towne has brought the Rolling Stone-dubbed “unproducible” musical to Hollywood’s Open Fist Theatre. Joe’s Garage imagines a world where music is banned — the plot follows its protagonist as he discovers the obscene powers of rock & roll, the lazy appeal of religion and the benefits of a nice yellow apron when having sex with a robot (Joe dons that ass-less costume for the bulk of the show).
The show debuted Friday during the first presidential debate, and the irony wasn’t lost on Zappa’s widow, Gail, who says the current political climate was no small factor in finally bringing the show to life. “[Joe’s Garage] is made for people who love this country and love the Constitution,” she told Rolling Stone after the premiere, which she attended with a crew that included daughter Diva. “It’s just so relevant…these are desperate times and people are trying to convince themselves that information is knowledge, and it’s not.”
Joe’s Garage has no shortage of vulgarity, charade fellatio or STDs (one of the songs, “Why Does it Hurt When I Pee,” is performed in a Styrofoam toilet with chomping teeth). But the effect is signature Zappa, balancing brilliant arrangements that manage to be at once dissonant and melodic with a satirical use of shock value. At the end, though, it’s one to many shocks for Joe — after uncovering his love of rock & roll, turning to religion for redemption, having sex with appliances and being raped by the music industry (literally) in prison, he goes mad. “As you can see,” says the Central Scrutinizer, narrator of the show, “music can get you pretty fucked up.”
“I never thought it would get off the ground,” said Gail. “Frank tried many times in his lifetime and there were many people that would talk to me about [producing the show]. But they were always concerned about the language.” Gail herself has held a notoriously tight fist on everything Zappa, fighting to ensure the artistic integrity of her husband’s songs. But now, the timing and people felt right. The show runs through November 22nd.