The Day They Shot John Lennon: Profound Self-Absorption

Local Arts Reviews

The Day They Shot John Lennon: Profound Self-Absorption

Dougherty Arts Center,

through April 8

Running Time: 1 hr, 30 min

You know those times when your world gets ineffably rocked, how everything gets shimmery and eerily hyper-real? The day after John Lennon's untimely death on December 8, 1980 (listed unforgivably in the program for this staging of The Day They Shot John Lennon as 1990), thousands turned up at the Dakota apartments where the shooting took place to be together in their grief. It is possible that this was a moment the participants in that mourn-in will never forget and would have trouble putting into words. But this show ain't about that.

Instead, James McLure's script is, in the hands of the Actors Theatre of Austin, about nine people from different walks of life (three teenagers, two yuppies, two Vietnam vets, an elderly Jewish man, and a young stand-up comic), standing around making vague social commentary and trying to come to terms with the mysteries of the world -- such as "Where are the words?" and "How could a country that gave us Beethoven, Mozart, and Freud give us Auschwitz?" At one point, the funny, pouty teenage girl says to her tough boyfriend (who is for some reason played by a girl): "I think you're too self-centered to 'imagine all the people!'" That line could apply to nearly all the characters.

Ultimately, the imaginative capacity of director Jerry Pilato seems rather dubious, too -- at least where this show is concerned. Despite the best efforts of the fine, accomplished actors he has cast, Pilato is impressively inconsistent in his direction. The characters lack any lasting motivation for their behavior. The yuppie woman's flirtation with the yuppie man ("Hey, weren't you at Woodstock?") runs so hot and cold, so arbitrarily, it's as though she's a different person every time the lights come up on her. And the lights go up and down incessantly, as the characters onstage take turns in their ranting. This leaves the rest of the actors in semi-darkness, frozen in unnatural poses for up to 20 minutes at a time, for nearly the whole hour and a half the show runs. How is this anything but an endurance contest?

And if you're even remotely nit-picky, playing "find the continuity errors" in this production will make you wince. Here's a start: The old man can barely hold himself up one minute, then looks strong as an ox the next. The yuppie couple leave their briefcase and purse all over the stage (In New York! By Central Park! In a crowd!), while the pair of thieves next to them ignore the abandoned goods and plot to steal the teenage girl's wallet.

Though the characters refer occasionally to the way the Beatles "defined a generation, man," and "brought Eastern spirituality to the West," the occasional, all-too-brief snippets of Beatles songs over the poor-quality sound system reinforce the divide between the sheer loveliness of the music and the profound self-absorption of these particular bystanders. The following exchange is typical of the play's intellectual depth: Her: "Love is the greatest energy in the world." Him: "I know!"

The ineffable is always relevant, but why this vapid take on that moment 20 years ago in New York has any bearing on present-day Austin is never established. In one of the opening monologues, a woman says "Something is wrong. Something is really wrong." And how.

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the day they shot john lennon, james mclure, actors theatre of austin, jerry pilato

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