Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Ears on a Beatle"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Mark St. Germain
directed by Paula Ramsdell

Howard Ballantine … Steven Barkhimer
Daniel McLure … Michael Kaye

In Mark St. Germain’s new play EARS ON A BEATLE, two fictional FBI agents survey and report on musician/activist John Lennon beginning in 1972 when Mr. Lennon’s anti-war stance clashed with Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign (the Nixon administration tried to deport him, as a result) and ending in 1980 when Mr. Lennon was gunned down in front of his New York home, the Dakota. The agents --- one, a conservative; the other, a hippie --- disagree on various topics, become sort-of friends and eventually swap soapboxes: Ballantine, the older, grey-flannel agent, goes from cold and steam-pressed to warm and rumpled and realizes, upon spending an unexpected afternoon with Mr. Lennon, that the former Beatle isn’t such a bad guy, after all; McLure, a flower child who seems untouched by illegal substances, is, like, in total awe of their “Subject”, man --- he later declares Mr. Lennon to be a washout after watching him seduce a woman at a party following Mr. Nixon’s re-election; at play’s end, they ironically become loose ends in Mr. Lennon’s controversial murder. EARS ON A BEATLE is mild nostalgia for the Bad Old Days: Mr. St. Germain never shows why Mr. Lennon was so dangerous to Mr. Nixon --- Mr. Lennon’s famous “Bed-In” documentary reveals him to be a media-savvy Dove among unenlightened Hawks, for starters --- and he writes of an angry, messy era by the light of a cool, blue flame with the agents as cogs in Mr. Hoover’s spy-machine and Mr. Lennon, one more misunderstood visionary. The Ballantine-McLure relationship could be viewed as Beckett-esque with the agents ever watching and waiting for something (anything?) to happen but Mr. Chekhov also stops by to gently sweep all drama offstage, leaving McLure’s transition from long hair and bell bottoms to a buzz cut and a trench coat as the evening's one touch of theatre.

Paula Ramsdell has directed EARS ON A BEATLE neatly, tidily, lining up all her paper clips, so to speak, and Robert M. Russo has designed a pleasing photo collage of Mr. Lennon and other icons, interspersed with watchful eyes and listening ears. Steven Barkhimer and Michael Kaye’s agents come from different acting styles rather than from different generations: Mr. Barkhimer begins in his now-familiar rat-a-tat manner but settles down to a rueful, belated humanity and Mr. Kaye steeps himself in agit-prop, gradually becoming a cold angel for the U. S. government. The evening passes so painlessly with the Messrs. Barkhimer and Kaye none the worse for wear that they could easily end their curtain calls by starting their performance all over again --- but it would remain skimmed milk, even when doubled.


"Ears on a Beatle" (22 October - 20 November)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 437-7172

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide