‘Love and Vinyl’ spins a fascinating and funny story in a real record shop

Playwright Bob Bartlett creates a believable and realistic scenario and gives us three likable characters who probably remind us of someone we know.

Once upon a time, predict-y sorts of folk predicted that ebooks would replace physical books. Bibliophiles dictated otherwise. Likewise, CDs, MP3s, and direct digital downloads threatened to make bulky, delicate, warpable, scratchable vinyl records as dead as dinosaurs. Even Napster, Spotify, and Pandora, however, have failed to make vinyl obsolete. Here’s where our story begins.

I first heard of Love and Vinyl when my editor at DCTA described it as potentially a “cool, unique event” and felt that I as a reviewer “would like this kind of thing,” an amusing way to spell “you seem fond of the weird ones,” but she’s not wrong. I am fond of the weird ones.

My fondness is rewarded: Love and Vinyl is weird in a wonderful way.

Carlos Saldaña (Zane), Rachel Manteuffel (Sage), and Andy Brownstein (Bogie) in ‘Love and Vinyl.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Bob Bartlett likes environmental theater. This is not his first foray: at the Maryland Avenue Laundromat in 2018, The Accident Bear enjoyed a successful run. Despite lockdown, in his backyard, Bob staged Three Strangers Sitting Around a Backyard Firepit at Two in the Morning Listening to Bruce Spingsteen’s Nebraska. Two years later his horror play, Lýkos Ánthrōpos, debuted in a wooded clearing in Central Maryland. Now, Bartlett brings his newest show, Love and Vinyl, to KA-CHUNK!! Records, close to the now-defunct Laundromat.

The record shop opens to theatergoers beginning at 7:30 PM, and guests who are so inclined may buy records or KA-CHUNK!! gear. Inside, seating is cushioned, conference-style stackable chairs. The shop hosts a maximum of ten people for each performance. “Intimate” is almost an understatement.

Production values are functional but not fancy, as you might expect of a show that’s set in a small indie record shop and performed in — you guessed it — a small indie record shop. The actors are unenhanced by microphone amplification, which would be overkill, since the actors are nearly in our laps.

Costuming by Kathryn Kawecki is only distinguishable as costuming if one knows the actors and their habitual styles. She arranges real clothing for real people, who look as if they belong in a record shop, or wandering around Annapolis.

Bob Bartlett, the playwright/producer, creates a scenario that’s believable and realistic, with three characters who probably remind us of someone we know, and we find ourselves rooting for their success even when they don’t seem to know what constitutes success for themselves.

There are references and jokes that revolve around nearly defunct analog experiences, which is what makes the show truly unsuitable for children. Aside from the swearing (there is calculated use of the F-bomb and its iterations), people under the age of… — well, how long ago was the ’80s? — have no experience of the rise, fall, and resurgence of vinyl records. They lack context. Even if the kids are themselves gramophiles, there’s much that will likely be lost on them. Love and Vinyl is extremely referential. In quick succession, NPR, Plato, William Shakespeare, Hallmark holiday specials, and John Cusak are brought into the story.

Andy Brownstein, Rachel Manteuffel, and Carlos Saldaña in ‘Love and Vinyl.’ Photos by Teresa Castracane.

Playwright Bartlett gives us three likable characters, each with modest but urgent super-objectives, and provides his three characters with distinctly different voices — not just linguistic differences, but differences in timing, sentence length, and speech patterns. We meet them individually. Playing Bogie, the first character to enter, is Andy Brownstein, who reveals Bogie’s quirks through humor and mild embarrassment. As Bogie’s longtime friend Zane, Carlos Saldaña is solid, a bit stuffy, plagued by a weighty concern. We get to know these fellows somewhat before the entrance of Sage, performed by Rachel Manteuffel, who fills the room with a forceful personality and barely restrained emotional energy.

Exposition is organic, packaged in natural dialogue. The action unspools in real-time, with no presumed chronological compression: everything happens right now. Director Carlos Saldaña draws authentic emotion from his fellow actors and provides plenty of three-dimensional movement to keep our attention.

The dialogue is snappy and funny, but not overwritten or unrealistic. Sure Sage has some philosophical monologues that seem pre-conceived, but I have friends who talk that way all the time. Love and Vinyl is fascinating and funny, and an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. In American entertainment, so much is a rehash of something else. It’s refreshing to experience a fresh story alongside a fresh format.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission. No one is seated after the performance begins at 8 PM, for reasons evident once the show is underway.

ADDED DATES: August 9, 10, 11, 12 at 8:00 PM

Love and Vinyl plays through August 6, 2023 (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8:00 PM), at KA-CHUNK!! Records, 78 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD. Advanced ticket sales only ($40, $20 for high school and college students) online.

Because of the uniqueness of the venue/performance space, the production seats only ten guests per performance. Probably not suitable for children. Audience seating is provided. Street and garage parking. Plenty of local bars and restaurants.

Click here to see the digital program.

COVID Safety: Masks are optional.

Reviewer Tips:

Regular record shop hours at KA-CHUNK!! are 12 noon to 7 PM Monday through Saturday and 12 noon to 5 PM Sunday, which is the reason Sunday shows are at 8 PM instead of a traditional Sunday matinee.

The show is in Old Town Annapolis — plan ahead! Nearby street parking is rare! There’s construction, too, so fewer available spots overall. The Hillman Garage, newly refurbished, is open and about a five-minute walk from the venue, though hills and cobblestones of Old Town Annapolis are unfriendly for wheels and heels.

For pre- or post-show dining, there are a number of restaurants and bars on Maryland Avenue (Galway Bay, a lovely tavern with a charming host, is directly across the street). My personal favorite Annapolis eatery is Chick and Ruth’s Deli, in the middle of Main Street, where I indulge in a Thorogood Marshall sandwich, a dish of matzo-ball soup (the matzo ball is the size of a large grapefruit) and a scrumptious chocolate malt at 10 PM. YOLO, no regrets.

‘Love and Vinyl’ to mix it up at KA-CHUNK!! Records in Annapolis (preview feature by Kathryn Kawecki, June 14, 2023)


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