“These Streets,” which runs at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) through March 10, takes a look at the experiences of women in the Seattle grunge scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
One of the most interesting elements of the show is that throughout the production, the cast members and backing band unearth a variety of numbers performed during that era by bands that featured women: 7 Year Bitch, Hammerbox (both of whom graduated from local to major labels), the Gits, and Bell, among others, as well as the bands that featured Gretta Harley, one of the show’s co-creators (Danger Gens and Maxi Badd). It’s a welcome blast from the past that reminds you of songs too often overlooked — 7 Year Bitch’s “Knot” being a prime example. The vintage band posters that cover the set also add to the nostalgic mood.
The show also features original numbers by Harley and “These Streets” co-creator Sarah Rudinoff. Harley also appears in the show’s backing band (taking the occasional lead vocal), while Rudinoff appears as the older version of one of the show’s characters.
The show has been marketed as a means of reminding people that women were indeed involved in the Northwest rock explosion, and that women have different experiences in rock ‘n’ roll. But that point soon becomes muddled. The show is told through a series of vignettes, and as the main story emerges, it becomes less about women’s role in Northwest rock (apart from a few side observations, such as soundmen not taking female performers seriously), and more a typical rise and fall story; some bands go on to bigger things, some don’t, and those left behind become resentful.
The show isn’t meant to be based on any one female performer’s life. Characters are shown at a younger and older age (something that wasn’t entirely clear at first, which made the show a bit confusing to follow in the beginning), with the older selves noting that they were written out of history. But the show never really gets to grips with the reasons why. Were their songs overlooked because they were by women? Were they not able to get the breaks their male counterparts did because they were women? If they were men, would their stories have been any different? The show’s creators talked to many women who were involved in the scene at the time as they put this show together, and while some of their thoughts make their way into the production, there aren’t enough to really let you know what made the experiences of the women involved in Northwest music especially distinctive.
It’s still fun seeing a show that’s as much a rock concert as a theatrical production. And props to the authenticity; empty cartons of Rainier hold free earplugs for all attendees, and the featured drink is Jack and Coke.