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A CurtainUp Review
by Jenny Sandman

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burnů
--- Kerouac, On the Road
Jack Kerouac, for my money, is probably the most original and fascinating author of the twentieth century. It's not often a writer invents a new style of writing, and more importantly, Kerouac's new style matched his content-and his life. Like jazz, he sprang forth from the richness of American artistry and changed the landscape of everything that was to come after him. He lived a brash, bold, headstrong life, one that has been heavily explored in print but rarely touched on stage. More plays should be written about Kerouac-he was an active and impulsive figure, one that would translate well to the theatre. However, this Kerouac doesn't do justice to the man and it certainly doesn't do justice to the Beat inner circle.

The play takes place on the last night of Kerouac's life, at his mother's house in Florida. As he dies, his life flashes before his eyes; he relives scenes from his youth and discusses his impending death with Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg as two newspaper writers compose his obituary. An interesting concept, to be sure, but one which the script doesn't support. Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg are all portrayed as slightly pretentious caricatures of themselves, having a conversation they would never have had. Kerouac wallows in self-pity, lashes out at his closest friends, and he spends the play drinking Scotch, which he hated, rather than the cheap wine he loved. The token female character feels gratuitous; the conceit of the writers composing Kerouac's obituary only trips up the already halting pace and adds little to our understanding of him. Somehow these most charismatic of men have been rendered into leaden, timorous pseudo-intellectuals. Worst of all, the structure is weak and static, with no clear forward movement, story progression, or character development.

Like so many other great writers, Kerouac could not handle the spotlight and turned to drink, drowning his sorrows and self-doubt in booze. When he died at 47, he was bloated and worn out from constant drinking, a virtual recluse. Peter Stewart, who plays Kerouac, has the tall, dark, ex-football-player mystique of Kerouac, but he's too young and good-looking to convincingly play an overweight, dying alcoholic. He also plays Kerouac as completely bitter and disaffected, more like a professor denied tenure who is lashing out at his colleagues than like the enfant terrible of American literature. The core trio of actors (Stewart, Kyle Pierson as Cassady and Gavin Walker as Ginsberg) unfortunately doesn't begin to have the chemistry or magnetism of the original three. But considering what they had to work with, I'm sure the actors did the best they could.

It's a shame, too. With the right text, with the right actors, with the right staging, this story could be really amazing. But we'll have to wait a bit longer for that.

Editor's Note: Last year CurtainUp critic David Lohrey went to see an earlier production of this play at another venue. When we received an invitation to see it done again at another theater, with a shortened title, some cast changes as well as a new director, we decided to get this second opinion from Jenny Sandman, another Kerouac enthusiast. To read the original review go here

Written by Tom O'Neil
Directed by Tony Pennino
Cast: Peter Stewart (Kerouac), Kyle Pierson (Neal Cassady), Gavin Walker (Allen Ginsberg), Tim Cox (Writer #1), John Kwiatkowski (Writer #2), Dierdre Schwiesow (Red)
Costume Design: Caroline Duncan
Lighting Design: Jason Godbey
Running time: 1 hour and 15 minutes, without intermission
PC2; 616 9th Avenue at 44th Street
Tickets $35; 212-352-3101 1/11/26-2/23/03; opening 1/29/03
Wednesday through Monday, 8 pm
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on January 23rd press preview
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