Light my fire


By E.E. Mazier
Directed by Julie Lira
Riant Theatre
161 Hudson street, 4th Floor (925-8353)
Equity showcase (closes Apr. 29)
Review by Doug DeVita

"Jim Morrison is the quintessential American icon," says playwright E.E. Mazier, "the embodiment of the sex-drugs-rock-'n'-roll life, the live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse legacy of the Beat Generation of the 1950s so admired even today." As such his life story would seem to be a natural for the stage, encompassing childhood struggles with an overbearing father, astounding world-wide success with The Doors, and death at age 27 in Paris. All of the elements are there, and yet somehow Mazier's script for "Morrison" is a messy, albeit compelling, work. Barely one hour long (with intermission), it's more of a skeleton than a fully fleshed out work, as if it had been rushed from concept to finish without the luxury of development under the guidance of a keen, impartial eye.

The almost cinematic construction of scenes don't flow with any cohesive structure, flashbacking and forwarding without any sense of stage logic. Mazier counts on one's knowledge of Morrison's life to fill in the blanks, and is only partially successful in imparting crucial details. (It is left unclear when, or why, Morrison went to Paris, the whole episode covered by one throwaway reference to the French capital.) Director Julie Lira did what she could, but she was ultimately defeated by the unfocused script and an over-reaching ambition. The grand scheme of her rock-concert concept (colorful, constantly flashing lights, massive milling of nearly out-of control fans, etc.) may have worked better in a large, technically proficient arena (or better yet, on film). But the limited means available at the Riant Theatre severely handicapped both the script and Lira's interpretation of it, resulting in a production that looked and felt far less sophisticated than what must have been envisioned.

In addition, Lira's casting left much to be desired. The one true performance came from eight-year-old Brendan Maly as the child Morrison. Totally unselfconscious, he caught the terror and frustration of a gifted child trapped in a nightmare of stifling parental control with an ease and humility his adult castmates would do well to emulate. As for them, the only one to contribute a halfway decent performance was Charley Riggs as the adult Morrison - he had the charisma and looks, but his breathy delivery of nearly every line marred an otherwise competent portrayal.

Mazier, and Lira for that matter, are to be admired for their desire to pay tribute to Morrison, whose influence on American pop culture is still powerful nearly 30 years after his death. As state earlier, the facts of his life make for irresistible copy. But what is intriguing on paper doesn't necessarily translate to gripping drama. For their vision of "Morrison" to work, they need to take a hard, uncompromising look at their subject away from the glare of blinding devotion, and present him simply as the human being behind all the flash and glitter of a very public persona.

(Also featuring Amy Adams, Michael Cowell, Dana Foglia, Brian Hathaway, Paulette Munoz, Charles Nosworthy, Jenny Patt, Matt Shapiro, Laura Summerhill, Mickey Vamos, Lisa Vioni, Correy West. Sets, costumes and lighting uncredited.)

Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Sets: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita