Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Kerouac's Last Call"

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note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Larry Stark

"Kerouac's Last Call"

by Patrick Fenton
Directed by Ann Garvin

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

Newsday Reporter...Patrick Fenton/John Greenwald/LZ Nunn/David Perry
Jack Kerouac......Jerry Bisantz
Leo Kerouac..........Jack Dacey
Neal Cassidy.....Steve O'Connor
Jan Keouac...Amber Daniels-Cook
Memere Kerouac....June M. Sweet

Lowell, MASS, has given the world two excellent writers: Jack Neary and Jack Kerouac. Having done a couple of Neary's plays in his home town, Lowell's Image Theater has now paid homage to the city's famous novelist. Playwright Patrick Fenton found and heard a reel-to-reel tape of a party, in 1964, which was Jack Kerouak's farewell to Northport, NY, to unexpected fame, to incandescent youthful experience and to his persistent love of his country, his family and his friends. Fenton imagined this writer, for whom literature and autobiography lay inexplicably close to one another, packing to go down to Florida to take care of his mother --- and to die. This is a shadowy look into a drunken writer's mind as he looks forward and back by turns.

The Image Theater is interested only in new plays, and has since its founding in 2005 produced about 44 plays, mostly by writers who live in Massachusetts or, better yet, right in Lowell. And this world premier is presented quite logically in the upstairs common-room of The Old Court Irish Pub in Kerouac's home town.

There are cans of Budweiser and a couple shots of Jack Daniels involved, of course, but Jerry Bisantz has captured the volcano-like flow of Kerouac's rhythmic, excited prose. He has moments with his mother (June M. Sweet), with the workman-father (Jack Dacey) who always advised a Real Job instead of the writing, and with the beautiful but mad real hero of "On The Road" --- Neal Cassady (Steve O'Conon). And this last party is interrupted several times by phone-calls from Jack's unrecognized daughter Jan (Amber Daniels-Cook) --- whose plaintive request "Let me use your name" he finally agrees to only when she admits she, too, wants to write.

Wellington Breves has captured a shadowy memory-play atmosphere for this trip through memory. Bisantz steps easily from present to past and back, now discoursing directly to the audience at his party, now blazingly angry at Ken Kesey's hippies whom, everyone says, were invented in Kerouac's novel. He mentions in passing having written thirty novels, only a few of which, and one in particular, are still remembered.

This loving handful of time, at the end of a fame he never felt he deserved, has been brought to delicate life by Ann Garvin, co-founder of the company, in her first direction of a full-length play. Her touch is gentle, so that every character shares Kerouac's subtext of an end to everything. It could be a sad play, but she has underscored the zestful observer's eye that made Jack's autobiographical books worth the reading. And her co-founder Jerry Bisantz responds to her direction with the best performance of his career.

There are plans to take this play into Boston for yet another production, but if you can make it to Lowell this week-end, The Old Court is the place to be.

( a k a larry stark)

"Kerouac's Last Call" (16 - 23 February)
@ The Old Court, 2931 Central Street, LOWELL MA
1 (781)893-9171

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide