When 1980s punk icons the Circle Jerks sang “Live Fast, Die Young,” they were speaking to a movement of disillusioned youths who thrived in an unsustainable counterculture: “I don’t wanna live to be 43/ I don’t like what I see going on around me.”
Those in the movement, as well as the bands that provided their soundtrack, were too frantic to last for long. But everyone who did survive punk’s rise in the 1980s had to have their moment of reckoning when they made it to age 43 or even older.
In Alyson Mead’s play “Punk Rock Mom,” which debuted May 3 at Laurel’s Venus Theatre, the ideals of punk rock meeting middle age are embodied in the character of Jaime Fontaine.
A punk rocker at heart, Jaime stands by the punk ideology of forgoing the corporate world by taking up a few odd jobs, including a stint at a used-book store. Still, much of her wild past has been toned down.
“She will vacuum to The Clash, but she has not been actively going out because she has sublimated all these parts of her life,” Mead says.
Having grown up in New York City in the ’80s, Mead herself was a regular sight at the now-defunct rock and New Wave venue CBGB.
“When I was a kid, I was sneaking into CBGB’s and it was very sad for me to watch from afar ... my former haunt falling,” Mead says.
An author, playwright and practicing psychic, Mead, who now lives in Los Angeles, says she was inspired to write the piece after digging up old diaries recounting past days of seeing acts such as Sonic Youth.
“I found little diaries in my garage I forgot about and I was able to go back and think about the night I had seen Killdozer or Urge Overkill,” she says.
The play begins to build momentum when Jaime’s young daughter Joan — named after Joan Jett — comes home to announce that she is pregnant.
With her role as a grandmother approaching, Jamie decides to discover the identity of Joan’s father. Actress Deborah Randall, who portrays Jaime, says her character suspects four different men and reaches out to them.
“She asks them to submit to a DNA test, which is already awkward if you haven’t seen somebody in 20 years,” Mead says.
As she moves back into her past, Jaime rediscovers things about herself.
“That’s really the tension of the play ... how do you keep your ideals? How do you keep that punk rock manifesto going if you’re growing up? In reality, it happened to everybody,” Mead says. “It even happened to The Clash.”
Randall also is Venus’ founder, and she says she did not expect to jump into a leading role, as she has not been on stage in five years.
“I was really drawn to [Jaime] and the relationship between the mother and daughter, and that was fascinating,” Randall says. “The daughter kind of rebels against the rebellion by being very conservative.”
Obviously, music is a big part of the show. The soundtrack includes punk rock mainstays such as The Ramones and The Runaways. When Jaime is at her lowest, however, is when the music stops.
“It just gets completely silent and, for me, that’s the huge punctuation. ... She has to reclaim the music from within,” Randall says.
Although more of a pop fan in her youth, Randall went out of her way to craft Jaime’s look, even incorporating several henna tattoos.
“She’s middle-aged now, you know? So ... my hair at this point is kind of shagged out with some pink in it, but it’s not a Mohawk [and] we’ve got these tattoos,” Randall says.
The play is part of Venus’ Bold Hope season, which Randall created to honor two business neighbors who were killed in a boat accident last year. The four new plays, “A Girl Named Destiny,” “Devil Dog Six,” “Claudie Hukill” and “Punk Rock Mom,” all have positive messages. In a way, showcasing drama that is not one long sojourn into the melodramatic was a punk rock move.
“To do something on a positive note felt kind of edgy,” Randall says.