note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Carl A. Rossi
Jack Kerouac … Jerry Bisantz
Leo Kerouac … Jack Dacey
Neal Cassady … Steve O’Connor
Jan Kerouac … Jenney Dale
Memere Kerouac … Lida McGirr
Twice I’ve missed Image Theater’s KEROUAC’S LAST CALL when it premiered in Lowell; now the production has come to Boston Playwrights’ Theatre with Jerry Bisantz recreating his role as Jack Kerouac (1922-69), King of the Beats, and the evening is worth your time and dollar for its two voices --- Kerouac’s and playwright Patrick Fenton’s --- and for Mr. Bisantz. I know enough about Mr. Kerouac’s life but have never cracked open his books --- Mr. Kerouac turned a wanderlust spawned in the late Depression into an Odyssey, both inner and outer: his encounters with hobos, whores, junkies and jazz musicians became, in his hands, expressions of the “real” which, in turn, began the greening of America when the Beats made themselves heard, loud and clear, in the 1950s. Given such rambling material, Mr. Fenton wisely picks a focal point: a farewell party thrown by Kerouac for himself on the eve of his moving from New York to Florida with his widowed mother; Mr. Fenton covers quite a bit of ground in 70 minutes and as long as Mr. Kerouac is holding drunken court with his audience, both voices are true and compelling --- the evening falters in flashbacks with Kerouac’s parents, an insistent young woman who claims to be his daughter, and fellow-Beat Neal Cassady: since Kerouac begins in his cups, it would make aesthetic sense that this quartet appears and sounds only as far as his foggy senses would allow (i.e. expressionistic); instead, their dialogue is free of him, conventional and, on the whole, unnecessary (the stylized people in Kerouac’s monologues are far more vivid) --- ah, if the young woman could only be heard on the phone instead of being seen, as well (leaving Kerouac to puzzle out a possible fatherhood, sight unseen); as for Kerouac’s writing resembling Cassady’s conversation, I heard little in the latter’s words that was Muse-worthy…
Still, KEROUAC’S LAST CALL could stand, as is, with darker direction than Ann Garvin’s which, instead, passes this alcoholic, self-destructive man about as a genial, tipsy host with entertaining stories to tell --- an interpretation which Mr. Bisantz seems all too happy to play: Mr. Bisantz has always strived to be an actor of the people (I sense he’d be delighted if audiences cried, “Hi, Jerry!” whenever he makes an entrance) and if his Kerouac is locked into such a sunny mindset, then the man’s declining body should speak in opposite rhythms. But it was a pleasure watching Mr. Bisantz having the stage mostly to himself and stealing his own scenes --- a well-seasoned personality-actor, when properly placed, can be a show in himself and Mr. Bisantz, more than Mr. Kerouac, is this particular show. Now, to see Mr. Bisantz in a future production where, say, he is a mug in a tuxedo, striving to make it in high society --- the comic pathos he would then evoke! Perhaps he’ll write such a role for himself --- or, damn it, must I do it?