The Unknown: The Red Line.
  The Unknown: The Musical

Since Ragtime, since Stomp, since Guys and Dolls, there has been no act of musical theatre so bold, and so daring, so inflated to emotional heights and deflated to satirical depths, as The Unknown: The Musical. You will leave the theatre laughing and crying. It will make you smile. It will make you frown. It will make you think of doing things you may never have else thought of doing.

From the opening bars of “We’re on Drugs, But We’ve Done a Lot of High Qual-ity Writing, and We Just Want to Get Published” to the closing whispers of “Dirk is Dead, Come Lay Your Head” or “Maybe,” this show has got it going on. We are warped and spasmed, as a crowd, by this delightful array of American literature from the Beats to the Post-present, presented in an avant-pop-symphonic-jazz style that will make your head turn around and around again.

The Unknown? Yes, we have that here. The plot: three young, though eager to be sophisticated and touted, writers gather in a rumpled graduate student apartment in Cincinnati on a stormy June night. The three talented, if as not yet fully appreciated for their genius, writers sit around a low, octagonal coffee table under the influence of various mind-altering substances: LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, laughter. Together, in effervescent spirits, they plan a grand hypertext project, the electronic literary equivalent of an atom bomb, a Hypertext for the Millennium, The Unknown. The moment their purpose becomes defined (in the marvelous book co-authored by all the Unknown collaborative team) there is an outburst of song as the three leads join in a lusty rendition (backed up by a high-kicking chorus line of human-sized spliffs of high-grade cannabis, magic mushrooms, bottles of Booker’s, Camel Light cigarettes, and sheets of LSD) of “We’re on Drugs, But We’ve Done a Lot of High Qual-ity Writing, and We Just Want to Get Published.” The lyric sheet alone would make this a musical worth witnessing even if discordant instruments did their best to butcher an arrangement of words so impregnable as to be instantly elevated to the level of “Classic.”

Fortunately, the score is, without a doubt, one of most sublime collection of notes ever attached to an impeccable distillation of the essence of surviving these increasingly ironic times, the kind of times in which mere Post-Modern bravado barely gets you past the burly doorman into the bar of temporary imperceptible head-nods that acknowledge your less-than-15-minutes-of-fame status, while simultaneously sneering at the presumed vaporware-bid-for-status pose you hope no one notices. The triumphant “We’re on Drugs,” for example, ends with a third verse that demands to recognized by all lovers of that great American tradition, the musical:
We had no map, no compass,
No concerns an airline would bump us
We were fools, but hardy,
Always ready to party
But the writing was finished,
At every opportunity,
Under the influence but not diminished,
Flipping off tradition with gleeful impunity:
We’re the Unknown now—
But just you wait because somehow . . .
At which point, the entire phantasmagoric glam-paradise of Rockette wannabees stops its hallucinogenic crotch-cleaving scissor-kicking and joins in for the glorious chorus:
It’s like finding the bottom of a pancake
Metaphors are all semantic
But I’ll stitch a sweater from a bone
Make hearty aromatic soup from a stone
You might say I’m feeling frantic
But I tell you I’d swallow a small lake
Rather than being alone
So I’ll take my chances being Unknown
Philip Glass was exuberant. Robert Stone smiled. Paulie Shore hugged his lover-to-be. Cher did a cheer. Tony Curtis curtsied, and Madeline Albright had a smile that lit up the whole auditorium. And that was just for starters.

To continue would be to risk resorting to hyperbole. Simply put, the English language does not suffice—it does not have the resources necessary to describe the bliss one absorbs during a performance of The Unknown. You’ve read The Unknown on the World Wide Web; you purchased the print version of The Unknown anthology in bookstores across this nation; you’ve heard rumors of The Unknown: The Film of the Hypertext Novel by the Unknown for months; now see The Unknown, in all its multi-media, maxi-musical transcendence, appearing in a limited engagement at the Chicago Theater until August 20th. Five hands up!

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The Unknown at Spineless Books.