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A CurtainUp Review
No Great Society

No Great Society-- Returns to the Off-Off-Broadway Scene

Les Gutman reviewed this Elevator Repair Service's No Great Society at PS 122 last year and now its having a return run —with the same cast— on weekends at New York Theater Workshop, 83 East Fourth Street. Tickets $20 - 212/239-6200. For details, check out Les's review below.

Here's the original review by Les Gutman
Although I'm not Dionysus to your Euripides,
I should have been.

---Jack Kerouac on Firing Line
There probably was no man ever as misunderstood as Jack Kerouac. Notwithstanding (or in spite of) this, he has become a seemingly endless magnet for theatrical attention. It would be nice to think Elevator Repair Service, a company with an impressive track record of retracing well-worn paths in such an inventive way that something new is unearthed, could provide something revelatory. Here, however, they don't. To be fair, it's not at all clear that was ever their intent.

The two parts of No Great Society cover Kerouac's appearances on two television shows: William F. Buckley's Firing Line, the year before Kerouac died, and then a late fifties Steve Allen show, at the height of Jack's notoriety. Though ERS presents a clearly fictional account of the events, Kerouac was in fact on both shows, and all or portions of the real things are available on DVD (and even online) nowadays.

The Firing Line show, which is presented first, finds Buckley (Ben Williams) hosting Jack (Susie Sokol) on a panel with Lewis Yablonsky (Vin Knight), a sociologist who wrote a book about hippie culture, and Ed Sanders (Scott Shepherd), a musician, poet and radical. The subject: "The Hippies". Two things made this episode great: no one on stage could persuasively define what a hippie was, and Jack was blazingly drunk. ERS plays the transcript of the show fairly straight -- a wise decision since it has all of the humor and pathos one could ever need. Williams has his Buckley impression down pat, and Sokol, a fine physical comedian, has a field day interpreting Jack's behavior.

For the Steve Allen segment, ERS takes far greater license. On the actual show, Allen played jazz on his piano while Kerouac read selections from On the Road and Visions of Cody. Here, instead, they have chosen to have Williams (who loses his Buckley wig and gains a pair of Allen eyeglasses for the transtion) playing the keys while Sokol replicates a film narration (sans the film) involving the visit of a bishop to a "beat" apartment on Bleecker Street. (For Kerouac fans, the actual film is Pull My Daisy.) The enterprise implodes under Kerouac's increasingly berserk and spasmodic behavior, and Sokol's inability to do justice to the material. At one point, Allen leaves Kerouac onstage while he goes out for tea; many in the audience were probably ready for something stronger.

Toward the end, with the actors from the Firing Line segment joining in, the show morphs into one of ERS's signature movement pieces, which is always entertaining but not, in this case, redeeming.

Total Fictional Lie
Highway to Tomorrow
Room Tone
No Great Society
by Elevator Repair Service, based in part on Jack Kerouac's appearances on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show in 1959 and on Firing Line in 1968, with additional text by Rinne Groff
Directed by John Collins (also set and lighting design
with Susie Sokol, Vin Knight, Scott Shepherd and Ben Williams
Costume Design: Colleen Werthmann
Choreography: Katherine Profeta
Running time: 1 hour, 5 minutes with no intermissions
P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue (@9th ST)
Telephone (212) 352-3101
First performance February 2, 2006, closes February 18, 2006 WED - SAT @8, SAT - SUN @5; $20
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 2/3/06 performance
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