Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Kerouac's Last Call"

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note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Larry Stark

"Kerouac's Last Call"

by Patrick Fenton
Directed by Ann Garvin

Lighting Design and Execution by Wellington Breves
Sound Design & Execution by Alex Savitzky
Graphic Designer Karla Sorenson
Producer Jerry Bisantz
Stage Manager Ann Garvin

Jack Kerouac......Jerry Bisantz
Leo Kerouac..........Jack Dacey
Neal Cassidy.....Steve O'Connon
Jan Kerouac...........Jenny Dale
Memere Kerouac......Lida McGirr

Last February the Image Theater premiered "Kerouac's Last Call" by Patrick Fenton at The Old Court pub in Jack's home town (Lowell MA). This week Image has brought the show to the Boston Playwrights' Theatre, with some cast changes and some excellently moving graphic projections (by Wellington Breves, designed by Karla Sorenson). More importantly, Ann Garvin the director and the cast --- particularly Jerry Bisantz playing Kerouac himself --- have found the soul of a show that has grown enormously in five short months. I urge anyone who loves Jack or loves theater to experience this moving meditation on the last days of a largely neglected novelist. It hit me where I live.

Fenton's play takes place in the mind of the writer, fading from the present into scenes from his past like a movie edited on a three-in-the-morning drunk and projected on holy pot-smoke. (Hint: in the past Jack pours himself shots of Jack Daniels; talking to his friends the audience, he has a bottle of beer in his fist.) Swimming out of his past come his mother (Lida McGirr) --- a little wren of a woman who can peck him into a forgive-me son with a single word --- his father (Jack Dacey) --- an ink-handed printer sipping Canadian Club from the bottle whose dreams for his uselessly word-typing son were a football scholarship and a secure, honest trade --- and his friend and protagonist and role-model Neal Cassidy (Steve O'Connor) --- who drives Ken Kesey's bus that runs on LSD while jeering that, instead of sitting and writing about life, he's still LIVING it damnit, though Jack slashes back that Neal was never brave enough to try to get anything HE wrote published but Jack wrote Thirty novels, and one of them was "On The Road".

There are no stolen quotes, but every once in a while Fenton's Jack (Okay, Bisantz's Jack) can rattle off an extended sentence studded with remembered reality that outlines life with words like machinegun-bullets bleeding unspoken empathy for the universe and clear visions of things as they are. Jack loved the overflow of America and hated the nihilism of Kesey's "hippies" who defiled the Beatnik dream that made them all possible. And his probable daughter Jan (Jenny Dale) phones several times out of his memories, achingly asking him just to Pay Her Attention --- and he admits his paternity only when at long last she admits to, herself, trying to write.

The play is set in Northport New York in 1964 when Jack prepared, with an all-night drunk studded with memories, to take his mother to Florida where instead of writing "like Hemingway did" he put on weight and died four years later. It's last call, a last chance to recall a life on the knife-edge of reality he turned into thirty luminously autobiographical novels. Its mood is inevitably elegiac, but this entire cast is dead solid perfect and Jerry Bisantz, reeling-drunk on life, exudes the party-time charm of an artist always eager to tell people about the unique joys of his time spent crossing and re-crossing America "desirous of everything at the same time". Bravo Fenton. Bravo Image Theater.

( a k a larry stark)

"Kerouac's Last Call" (17 - 26 July)
1 (781)893-9171

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide