On the road ... again

Jack Kerouac - "Last Call"

By Tom O'Neil
Directed by Stanley Harrison
13th Street Repertory Company
50 West 13th Street (675-6677)
Non-union production (closes July 14)
Review by Elias Stimac

A lot has been written about writer Jack Kerouac, a fiery literary star who burned out before his time. Founder of the "Beat Generation" movement, he was an inspiration to countless people in the 1950s and beyond, and his works are still read, recommended, and revered to this day. Playwright Tom O'Neil has penned a fitting homage to the man behind the myth in Jack Kerouac - "Last Call," at the intimate 13th Street Repertory Company space.

One of Kerouac's mantras, according to the play, is "Love, work, suffer," and the character does all that and more in the course of the hour-long production. In real life, Kerouac (John Jordan) was a colleague to equally famous nonconformists William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady, having met them in the neighborhood near Columbia University during the '40s.

In the play, Ginsberg (Gavin Smith) and Cassady (Kyle Pierson) appear to Kerouac on the last day of his life. Also arriving (in his mind's eye) on the scene in his Florida bungalow are two obituary writers (Tim Cox and Michael Mercandetti), a dance-hall dame named Red (Deirdre Schwiesow), and Cassady's wife Carolyn (Meredith Faltin). These visitors from his past return to confront, cajole, and comfort Jack in his final hours, taking him on a whirlwind review of his life, his loves, and his literary influences.

The character's surreal self-examination was handled with intelligence and intensity by actor Jordan, who managed to evoke a bit of sympathy for the alcoholic agitator who felt he "had nothing in common with anyone." Jordan is joined by a versatile company of players, including Smith, who hysterically conveyed Ginsberg's gangly optimism and awkward attempts at homosexual advances, and Pierson, who captured the slick swagger and reckless nature of street cowboy Cassady. Schwiesow was alluring as the elusive hooker Red; Faltin showed the soft and sensitive side of Carolyn; and Cox and Mercandetti comically kept everything in context as the obituary writers.

O'Neil's script is poetic yet practical, offering audiences a theatrical jam session filled with revealing quotes, whimsical conversations, and autobiographical details. Harrison's direction was straightforward and streamlined, giving the piece a smooth-flowing quality throughout. Choreographer Lara Hayes-Giles contributed a stirring sequence of dream movements. The bare set was simply furnished with a few chairs and an ever-present whiskey bottle, and was competently lit by Padraig Williams-Shipley.

The cast listed above alternates on various nights with another ensemble of actors, which includes Alexander Lange (Kerouac), David Cochrane (Cassady), David Renwanz (Ginsberg), Maggie Ridge (Red), Sarah Wolfman-Robichaud (Carolyn), Neil Feigeles (Writer #1), and John Kwiatkowski (Writer #2).

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Set: 0
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac