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A CurtainUp Review
Jack Kerouac: Last Call
David Lohrey
Love, work, suffer: yes, my family motto.
---Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac, remarkably, never goes away. Like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon, Jack Kerouac has achieved a kind of immortality in the American consciousness, even now, and perhaps especially, among the largely and increasingly illiterate youth. That previous generations of rebel youth found him and his work inspiring should be of no surprise. Young people, especially the children of the bourgeoisie, are attracted by disaffection that leads to success. For them, nothing could be better than giving the finger to the establishment while gaining its approval. This, coupled with Kerouac's sexuality and alcoholism, adds mystique to his reputation as a poet-warrior.

Playwright Tom O'Neil takes Kerouac as the subject of his new play, largely a one-man show starring John Jordan, who offers a powerful, revealing, emotionally exhausting performance. It is, however, not apparent what if anything interested the playwright in Kerouac as a writer. The evening consists of an over wrought confessional monologue which exposes Kerouac as a man. Kerouac's writing is not of central concern, it would seem, to O'Neill, yet this is surely the main reason Kerouac is remembered. Here we are introduced to the author as crybaby, a boozed-up mess who it would seem is incapable of carrying out any mission in life beyond begging for mercy. Why Mr. O'Neill chose Kerouac as his subject is a mystery. There is nothing in his depiction to suggest that the playwright has an affinity for the young Kerouac's work.

Kerouac opens the play center stage speaking directly to the audience. Soon he is joined by biographers/investigators #1 (Nick Marcotti) and #2 (Michael Mercandetti), whose purpose on stage is principally that of offering exposition and of soliciting responses from Kerouac. As hero-worshipers, they represent the empty souls of a society ready to exploit the celebrities they despise. Soon Kerouac's friends Neal Cassady (Kyle Pierson) and Allen Ginsberg (Gavin Smith) show up. Together again, these three iconic members of the Beats proceed to offer the audience a recap of their times together. The whole thing is weighed down and finally sinks under the weight of sentimentality, but this in no way takes away from the dynamic performances of Jordan, Pierson and Smith. In fact, one wishes the players had material more in keeping with their evident talents. Especially revealing and dramatically telling are moments of jealousy and rivalry. Here the author provides the performers with the dramatic material they need to create credible moments of mounting tension. The viewer is rewarded by the performers' subtle depiction of ambition concealed by shame and guilt

Only Gavin Smith, who plays Ginsberg, shows any sense of having been glad to be born. This may in fact be an accurate depiction of the author in his youth, but the awful adolescent solemnity Pierson and Jordan often display seems totally wrong for the characters one remembers in Kerouac's On the Road. Kyle Pierson plays Cassady as a narcissistic closet case, whose masculine arrogance obscures as much as it reveals about his relationship with Kerouac. One can't help wondering if the playwright has given the actors a rounded treatment of their respective characters.

Ultimately, John Jordan is asked to carry the show and although he is more than competent in displaying the character of a man in distress, the writing is uneven and fails to reveal the source of Kerouac's talent. The emotional venting seemed arbitrary, a howling, which may have been the Kerouac's but could just have well been O'Neil's or the actor's or the man in the moon's. Self-indulgent as Jack Kerouac -- Last Call may be, fans of the Beat Generation will no doubt find a great deal to appreciate about this study in retroactive self-discovery.

Written by Tom O'Neil.
Director: Stanley Harrison.

Cast: John Jordan, Nick Marcotti, Michael Mercandetti, Kyle Pierson, Gavin Smith, Deirdre Schwiesow, Meredith Faltin..
Light Design: Padraig Williams-Shipley.
Running Time: 1 hours and 10 minutes, with no intermission
13th Street Rep, 50 West 13th Street, New York, (866) 468-7619.
04/18/2002 - 07/14/2002, Thurs - Sun at 7pm.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 5/26/02.

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