New York | 1h 25m | Already closed

How To Be A Rock Critic

From 21 critic and 13 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Clever, Resonant, Entertaining, Funny

About the show

This solo play adapts Lester Bangs' writing to chart the life, work, and death of one of the 20th century’s most ground-breaking, risk-taking, pioneering voices. Part of the Public Theater's Under the Radar festival. More…

Gonzo journalist, America’s greatest rock critic, and inventor of the word “punk,” legendary music writer Lester Bangs was an American icon. Outsized, manic, chaotic, and impossibly creative, Bangs traveled with some of the most mythologized musical figures of the 20th century: The Clash, Bob Marley, Lou Reed­—peeling away the veneer between star and audience and exposing the greats as flawed human beings. As the ragged, rebel ethos of the 70s gave way to the corporate pop of the 80s, Bangs lost the myth he’d built a life around and died of a drug overdose in 1982.

Theater Pizzazz

“Entertaining and informative production...We utterly appreciate the greatness that was rock music seen through Bangs seminal perceptions and keen understanding...A story-book journey back into rock history. It is always alive and in the moment thanks to Jensen’s acting and Blank’s direction...This must-see production concluded its run...But one would hope that another venue will pick it up in the future. It is that good.” Full Review

Stage Buddy

“Jensen is addictively watchable...The audience leans in, convinced that Bangs can somehow save us all from an inconsequential life, just as Bangs believed that Rock and Roll can...Where do we put our faith?...The play provides no answers but if it were a score the bassline would be one of intense optimism, the verses a study of obsessive love, and the chorus an ode to pure human desire for connection, all of which leave the audience with a concert high to match any Rock and Roll show.” Full Review

New Yorker

“A unique and moving piece of theatre...Jensen plays Bangs with tenderness and intelligence...Jensen quickly establishes a kind of easy, knowing rapport with the audience. It's the same instantaneous closeness that Bangs presumes with his readers...That the play is hermetic—it’s just Bangs, his records, and the audience—feels germane to its subject.” Full Review


"A portrait of human hedonism that Jensen performs with gusto...As befits a play dealing with a man known to chase painkillers with Romilar, 'How to Be a Rock Critic' is a loosely structured blend of typical biography and gonzo lecture on the ephemeral nature of art and fame...Jensen draws energy from the audience in an appropriately self-indulgent manner...Above all, Jensen and Blank have created a passionate tribute to an important figure whose name is being rapidly lost to time." Full Review

British Theatre Guide

“Every play produced by wife and husband team Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen is a labur of love…‘How to be a Rock Critic’ is a very different animal but benefits from the same loving care…We are given an insight into the significance of music to so many…Erik Jensen is energetic and intoxicating, delivering a gripping performance that will convince most viewers that they have seen deep into the soul of Lester Bangs.” Full Review

Rolling Stone

“Jensen fully inhabits Bangs, from his bipolar rants (excitable boy one moment, soul-searching adult the next) to a comb-averse wig...All of which can make Bangs seem like a caricature...But with its biographical structure, ‘How to Be a Rock Critic’ explores the dark corners of Bangs' life...’How to Be a Rock Critic’ makes the case that his journey, like that of any music fan in search of transcendence, can be a wonder too.” Full Review

Time Out New York

“Blank and Jensen’s tribute to the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (played by Jensen with shaggy, leaping enthusiasm) gives us a day-in-the-death account of the self-destructive 'Rolling Stone' writer...It’s loving and nicely constructed, and the quotations from Bangs’s writing have a sometimes incantatory power. But it’s also an indictment of the kind of hysterical epiphany-seeking that he and his kind ushered into criticism...Don’t worship anyone, the play cautions.” Full Review


“The engaging one-man play, a labor of love from writer/actor Jensen and writer/director Blank, traces Bangs’ life...There’s inevitably a sweet nostalgia to the idea in this play that rock ‘n’ roll could have such a central place in the cultural conversation...So ‘How to Be a Rock Critic’ may come across, at times, like a history lesson...Blank and Jensen’s script is based on Bangs’ voluminous writings, not only his published work but letters and diaries, making their portrait more intimate.” Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"Based on Bangs' writings, but it never comes close to capturing the rush of his prose...Certain points aren't given the attention needed for us to see the world through its subject's eyes...Jensen is a solidly talented actor, and there is enough of Bangs' go-for-broke sensibility that, for much of its running time, 'How to Be a Rock Critic' provides a singular window on the rock revolution. But if this piece is to have an extended life, it will need a bigger injection of rock and roll." Full Review

The New York Times

“A surprisingly straightforward solo piece about Lester Bangs...The playwrights, Blank (who also directs) and Jensen (who also stars), have experience in documentary theater, having created ‘The Exonerated’, and it shows...They smoothly incorporate excerpts from Bangs’s writings and anecdotes pulled from various sources...That very smoothness, however, makes the show at odds with the messiness that Bangs seemed to thrive on...Overall the portrait does not coalesce into much of a point.” Full Review

New York Theater

"The uniqueness of Bangs' perceptions is not much in evidence in 'How To Be A Rock Critic,' starring Erik Jensen, who gives a persuasive performance...There are moments that suggest the power of Bangs’ insights...But we are meeting Lester Bangs when he is disillusioned and self-destructing, and about to die...It’s a trajectory with which we’re familiar from the stories of many of the rock stars whom Lester covered; there’s not much new here." Full Review

Culture Vulture

for a previous production “The sensational new production...Jensen seamlessly wove the script’s wall of words—insightful, philosophically intense dialogue drawn from Bangs’ writing—with organic audience exchanges...Jensen is mesmerizing as Bangs and Blanks’ direction keeps the momentum...which makes great use of Bangs’ rich and profane writing style...Four stars (out of four) because it’s a fabulous performance by Jensen and an excellent adaptation of Bangs’ opinions and writings.” Full Review

Chicago Sun-Times

for a previous production “Blank and Jensen have done a radical about-face in terms of tone and content in ‘How to Be a Rock Critic’, with Jensen in a bravura turn as the dissipated but fervent Bangs thriving on the ideally paced direction by Blank...Jensen, with his gingery hair and beard, expressive face, desperate body language, and perfectly conjured unwashed demeanor, takes us wholly inside Bang’s brain and soul and heart and dissipated existence.” Full Review

LA Weekly

for a previous production “Jensen’s one-man tornado of a performance, ‘How to Be a Rock Critic’ is no ordinary play...Defying expectations, Jensen and his wife, director/co-writer Blank, manage to structure Bangs’ published and unpublished words into a fascinating, insightful story...The use of well-chosen bits of songs adds crucial resonance to Jensen’s performance, just as Bangs' feverish litany of words gives these songs newfound power and a deeper intensity, like a master class in rock rebellion.” Full Review

Unrated Magazine

for a previous production “Jensen did a remarkable job inhabiting the real person and critic, Lester Bangs...Immediately, I was drawn into this tortured, lonely character, whose whole world was discovering favorite or not so favorite songs from past albums during his career as a rock critic...The play speaks to today more than ever...Great Monologue, which I feel is one of the hardest genres to make interesting! Great time had by all!” Full Review

Boston Globe

for a previous production “Bangs wanted rock to be better...That passion comes through in Jensen’s hyperkinetic, full-throttle portrayal in an engrossing solo show...Jensen takes us inside Bangs’s mind...'How to Be a Rock Critic’' functions more as a showcase of Bangs’s sensibility than as a life story...Even with a runtime of only 75 minutes, Bangs’s rants develop a repetitive, one-note quality at times...Yet overall he is stimulating company in this stage portrayal.” Full Review

The Artery

for a previous production "The show is lovingly obsessive, occasionally manic; it searches for coherence sometimes in tightly packed prose and sometimes through a white-knuckled faith in the implied poetry of adjacent anecdotes. That is to say, it winningly takes on the character of the works on which it’s based...’How to Be a Rock Critic’ is Lester Bangs karaoke, not a character study. The only through-lines are a vague sense of chronology.” Full Review

Chicago Tribune

for a previous production “Struggles to find the right balance between a character whose enthusiasm and analytical power are unbowed and a excessive-compulsive-neurotic who is about to suffer the same fate as many of those about whom he wrote. The emotional crises in this jumpy show do not feel earned...It all needs more shape. All that said...Blank and Jensen's piece is already a fascinating window into one of the last century's most compelling and fearless critics...There's some juicy stuff there." Full Review

Hyde Park Herald

for a previous production “A trip into the screwed-up psyche of the guy some have called the greatest rock critic ever...As embodied to the bone by Jensen, Bangs not only passionately and sometimes insultingly treats us to his highly opinionated views of rock ‘n’ roll...Certainly, Jensen’s virtuoso performance is worth seeing...On the other hand, ‘How to be a Rock Critic’ would definitely benefit from some trimming and shaping. There’s a lot of filler between the interesting stories and insights.” Full Review

Chicago Theater Beat

for a previous production "Directed by Blank, Jensen is eerily effective at channeling Bangs in all his messy, addicted, contradictory aspects. That doesn’t make ‘How to Be a Rock Critic’ – or Bangs – any easier to stomach…A script that makes Bangs seem like a pretentious jerk with a huge chip on his shoulder...Jensen all but disappears into the role, giving a performance that is exhaustively committed.” Full Review

Time Out Chicago

for a previous production “A solo play about the rock critic Lester Bangs constructs a portrait of his outsize personality, but doesn't answer the question posed by its title...While Jensen’s embodiment of Bangs’s shaggy mien is ingratiating, Jensen and Blank’s narrative is more shaggy-dog: an overlong collection of anecdotes and digressions that, while entertaining, ultimately doesn’t offer much insight into the urge to spread one’s opinions.” Full Review

Clever, Entertaining, Resonant

See it if you like Lester Bangs, understand the possibilities of music and language

Don't see it if you don't like Bangs's writing style

Passionate, Melancholic, A labor of love, Intelligent

See it if You're a fan of punk, proto-punk, rock criticism in general, or Lester Bangs in particular.

Don't see it if You're not, of if depictions of bipolar behavior disturb you. Or if you love the band Styx.

Also An affectionate but unflinching take on on the life of a die-hard love... Read more Read less

Clever, Great staging, Excruciating, Quirky, Funny

See it if You've read Lester Bangs or Hunter Thompson or Mojo religiously, you love vinyl records, and you've listened to a lot of music.

Don't see it if Graphic verbal depictions of physical and sexual violence disturb you. You don't care about rock music or criticism.

Also Wonderful set, engaging acting, a little slow in pieces, but overall a... Read more Read less

Slow, Boring

See it if You enjoy one man shows, fascinated with 70's music and Lester Bangs.

Don't see it if You are looking for a good story, with a climax, an arch and is interesting.

Also The fun of the music faded quickly. Fifty minutes in I was looking at ... Read more Read less

Inert, Lifeless

See it if You want to see the opposite of what the creators intended. How to make a fascinating character seem boring.

Don't see it if You don't like looking at your watch in the dark. Certainly there is a book which will bring Lester Bangs to life. This doesn't.

Great acting, Resonant, Masterful

See it if Rock and Roll is your religion.

Don't see it if You don't understand why art matters.

Clever, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Riveting, Entertaining

See it if Want to be fully entertained

Don't see it if If you don't have a sense of 60,s and 70s dialogue

Enchanting, Ambitious, Great acting, Profound, Resonant

See it if You want to see a fabulous one-man show and reminisce on the great rock hits of generations past

Don't see it if You don't want to think critically at the theatre

Also Eric Jensen's performance captivated the audience with the challenging... Read more Read less

Clever, Funny, Great acting, Great staging, Profound

See it if you appreciate music, records, one-man show, intelligent writing, high-energy theater.

Don't see it if you need more than one character to stay entertained.

Clever, Entertaining, Edgy, Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if you’re a person. Also if you love character portrayals/looking into the minds of brilliant people

Don't see it if You’re ESL...or maybe that doesn’t matter. See it and lemme know.

Great acting, Edgy, Funny, Great writing, Courageous

See it if You like smart acting, to learn about real people who don’t apologize, if you like to laugh and if you dig music.

Don't see it if You don’t like one-person plays, like only musicals, don’t really want to be challenged, or don’t like rock and roll.

Resonant, Great acting, Great writing, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if See this show if you want to truly delve deep into the psyche of the '60's counterculture and the headspace which birthed punk rock.

Don't see it if Won't be for you if cussin' and hard rock puts you off.

Also Jensen's infectiously exuberant performance captures the mind of a gen... Read more Read less

Edgy, Intelligent, Resonant, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if You love Rock and Roll, love Lester Bangs, love downtown theater, love nostalgic New York CBGB era culture, loved Almost Famous,

Don't see it if You haven’t had your 12th birthday yet...

Cast & Creatives (8)