‘No Static at All’: lost friendship and Steely Dan

nostatic2Alex Knox scored one of the hits of the just-ended New York International Fringe Festival with his powerful one-man performance piece “No Static at All.”

Already well received on the West Coast where the Yale School of Drama graduate lives and works, the hour-long monologue (with music) is a remembrance of a lost friendship and the way that an obsession with the music of Steely Dan made some sense of what happened.

Knox takes the audience back to his teen years in Irvine, California, where he became friends with a popular football player who inexplicably decided to try out for a high school play.

Although the effortlessly cool Joshua represented almost everything Alex disdained at that point in his life, the two young men bonded over a production of “The Diviners” where their on-stage partnership bled into their lives.

Like Alex, Joshua was a more or less non-practicing Jew, who lived for sports, pop culture and girls. Joshua’s taste in music frequently frustrated his friend who couldn’t immediately recognize the quality of tunes that an earlier generation revered (this is where Steely Dan comes in).nostatic1

For the summer after their graduation, the two friends planned a hiking trip to South America or Hawaii, but when Alex got into Yale — unexpectedly — he went East and Joshua stuck to his plan with a solo trip to Hawaii that proved to be life-changing.

Joshua almost drowned, fell in with a deeply religious Jewish man, and re-connected with his faith. As Alex adjusted to life in New Haven, his friend moved to Israel, became a rabbi and cut off communication (with the exception of one long letter that that explained what happened to him).

Alex decided to look for clues in his friend’s connection to Steely Dan and found himself becoming obsessed with music he once dismissed as “Muzak” with nasally singing. Alex sees parallels between his split with best friend Joshua and a bad break between Steely Dan composer/musicians Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. (The show’s title is derived from Steely Dan’s 1978 hit “FM.”)

“No Static at All” becomes a moving, funny reflection on a lost friendship and the way that pop music can inform us and bolster us in the most unexpected ways. Knox plays select cuts from Steely Dan — vinyl on a turntable that is just about the only “set design” for the show — and puts the audience under such a deep storytelling spell that we can see exactly where he is coming from.

“No Static at All” is the product of Tilted Field, a company made up mostly of old friends and collaborators from the Yale School of Drama and the Yale Cabaret, who are now split between the two coasts.

The show arrived in New York for six Fringe Festival performances on a wave of great West Coast press that was duplicated in Time Out and other Manhattan media outlets. I have a hunch this remarkable piece will be back for an extended run in some other venue — it marks Alex Knox as an exciting new figure in the solo performance field.

Joe Meyers