Review by Louis Nunez to Beatles Fan Club
On Sunday, May 7th a group of Beatle friends joined me for lunch at the Odeon in Tribeca. The occasion was our seeing the closing performance of The Sacrificial King a play for John Lennon written Margaret McCarthy. The play was being staged by the World 3 theater company. The Acess Theater was located on Broadway, BUT 2 blocks south of Canal Street and four tiring flights up Building # 380. Fortunately, despite the heat, our group was able to “access” the primo seats….great view and two working fans!
In his “director’s notes”, Darren Anderson went back to a Phil Och’s song calle “The Crucifixion” about the cosmic cycle of sacrifice that continually unwinds. The sing was originally written about the assassination of JFK and was the descriptive of the process by which countless ‘children’ are created, celebrated, followed, revered until ‘the gentle soul is ripped apart and tossed into the fire’. The play uses this same cycle to examine John Lennon in the role of a reluctant king. The key question evoked by the play: “Does such obsession with fame and celebrity create an environment of obscene ownership?”
Margaret McCarthy’s notes pay tribute to John as an artist and the vulnerability he showed and experienced in being true to his art and himself.
The interactions between John and the audience (in soliloquy), John and Paul, John and Yoko and John and himself (young and old) were fascinating.
Because the story of the “Sacrificial King” arises from ancient ritual within agrarian or nature-worshipping societies (note the premise beneath ‘The Children of the Corn’), the cast members are described as “tribe members”. The Sacrificial King is akin to the ‘scapegoat’ of Hebrew lore or Christ within the context of ‘the lamb’ in Christianity. A young virile man is feasted and regaled as the lover of Mother Nature, but in the end is sacrificed for the survival of the community…blood of one is shed to expiate the sins of the whole.
Lennon is portrayed as such a ‘social sacrifice’ from his tortured childhood, the realization of his unique genius (that makes him both envied and feared by others) and the cynicsm his experiences create towards the world and it’s phoniness. Indeed, it appeared throughout the play (as wasthe case in real life), that the more John was “true to himself” the more he earned the emnity
The actors who play John (Peter Byrne as young John and Chris McGill as the older Lennon) were very good. There were evident physical resemblances and valiant efforts in capturing John’s Scouse accent. Paul Jones played Paul McCartney and was essentially the jolly Paul of the early years…though he was quite moving when attempting to reach out to the older John in the later years. The play included aYoko Ono (portrayed by Jun Kim) who was far more attractive than the real Yoko ever was (more like May Pang) but gave a very strong personal performance as the “reviled” Mrs. Lennon # 2. Upon learning that she played “Jessie” in a production of Night Mother, I could see how she had the talent for such a role. My opinion of Yoko hasn’t changed, but I was reminded again about the degree of persecution she did endure throughout the late 60’s and early 70’s.
One of the truly fascinating aspects of this play was that it was really two plays. Concurrently with those scenes featuring John, Paul, the Beatles, and Yoko were scenes featuring a teenage girl who grows up to be a struggling artist. The young girl, played by Randi Glass, recognizes her uniqueness and creativity…which makes her both talented and an outcast among her friends (except for her best friend played by Tara Lynn Orr). The similarity to Lennon’s struggle is obvious. But unlike Lennon, who achieved fame and then had to deal with it inside an ever pressing fishbowl, the young girl struggled with her art within a world ignorant of her talent. She comes close to giving up (there are some excellent scenes with her mother, played by Carla Briscoe) but decides to continue to be true to herself in spite of the odds. The message here is that the life of the artist is one of struggle (Lennon points this out many times) and that is true whether there is glamour (for the few) or disappointment (for most). Another very important message and a fair one, is that the love and advise of a parent is not always wrong or detrimental. While John was denied such comfort, our female lead did have that concern available to her and only showed her appreciation of it later in the play (later in life).
There is also the presence of another struggling soul…called the Gunman (played by Eric Peterson). Unfortunately, we all know who he is, and tastefully his real name is never used. But this individual also is struggling to find himself, but unlike John or the young girl, never attempts to try and make something of himself. He lives vicariously through John and later “gives up” on his own. Although “unique” and an “outcast” like the other two protagonists, this figure represents those who fail — themselves and others–by not developing within themselves, but rather projecting their hope of self-worth upon others. These are the people who need to “get a life” as William Shatner once joked about Trekkies. These are the “illusionists”. Beatle fans know this type too well I’m afraid.
The interaction between the two young girls is similar to the relationship between the young Macca and Lennon (the Nurk twins!). One example of this was the a fictionalized re-creationof John and Paul at the Woolton fete (July 6, 1957 as many Beatle fans know). The scenario was not written as it really happened that day, but was reprsentative of many of their escapades has wild and crazy lads in Liverpool. The Mersey humor was very funny. The counterscene, reminiscent of the movie, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, featured the two girls sneaking into the Beatles hotel room and fighting over every sheet and pillow. Equally funny and very clear in it’s comparison to the two young Beatle best friends.
What was also poignant about the relationship between the two gals was how it drifted apart quite dramatically by the start of the second act. In fact, the best friend was no longer a factor, much as Paul was very much out of Lennon’s life after the split. The one difference, very true to life, was that Paul and John were inextricably tied together because of the events of their lives which were bigger than they were. They were in contact in the later years during the play…both physically (when they run into each other in the street circa 1980) and metaphysically (where John, within his mind, harkens back to the days of Hamburg and the ‘Pool, even talking/singing with the young John and Paul). But for most of us, who do not have such world shaking histories, we lose (perhaps forever) people who have passed through our lives and so our experiences were better represented by the lost friendship between the two gals who never interact again by the second half.
The question of fame as a catalyst for creating “sacrificial kings” is present throughout this play. As a Beatle fan one terrific scene reminded me of what a firestorm it was for the four of them and how true George’s comment was in Anthology when he said, “We sacrificed our nervous systems”. The scene involved a silhouette of the Beatles (from behind) against a screen with an American flag. While “I Saw Her Standing There” is playing, our two girls and three other friends (Karen Frazier, Kyra Himmelbaum, and Shelby Rosenblaum) enact every motion, emotion, facial expression and sensual move that every girl who ever saw a Beatle could have possibly ever made short of throwing brassieres and panties!! (I was ready to catch!) It was absolutely hilarious and brilliant!! A diehard fan couldn’t help but recognize something of themselves in those faces and movements. Although each them alternated expressions and movements there were unique moments. Ms. Glass danced like an “evangelical” during a prayer meeting, whereas Ms. Orr would tousle her hair wildly while very emphatically mouthing out, “George” as if she was screaming her last words on earth. I found both Ms. Himmelbaum and Rosenblaum particulary interesting to watch (hey I am a guy!), but noted that they both have dance and movement experience in their backgrounds which explains alot (or gives me a very valid excuse for cheering wildly…ha ha). Altogether it was a most remarkable scene which I knew took a tremendous
amount of time and work to pull off.
Throughout the play, we were treated to the wonderful voice of Laine Satterfield who played “the Witness”. The Witness spoke of the creative muse of the artist as well as the influence of destiny, particularly the fate of the “sacrificial king”. Lennon was regularly seen as that reluctant king and we were reminded of that by Ms. Satterfield. The use of “the Witness” I believe helped to ease our response to the final scene when John dies. Although the Gunman comes towards John, no gun is used, no shots are fired..even the movement of a discharging gun is not incorporated. Rather, the Lennon figure, clothed in his Sgt. Pepper jacket by the members of the tribe (humanity at large) simply falls backward to Yoko’s silent scream, the shock of the crowd and the fade out of light. It was done very tastefully…..but it was still very difficult to witness…..I won’t lie to you about that.
As Beatle and Lennon fans, those of our group were very familiar with the “personal” John Lennon having learned and studied his art and personal foibles over many years of admiration. Many of you may recall my previous missives talking about those among us that engage in a weird “deification” of the Beatles which is not only unhealthy psychologically, but insulting to the truth of their message and music. Fortunately, none in our group were afflicted with this “illusion”. Those who are would have had a hard time watching this play because it showed John “warts and all”, which is EXACTLY how he would have had it. The beauty of this play was that it showed John’s strengths and weaknesses within the context of the times he lived in and in contrast to his detractors. You could not walk away believing John was ALWAYS right or ALWAYS wrong. This play was a far better representation of his humanity and his gifts than any book or film had managed to accomplish with the sole exception of Ray Coleman’s book “Lennon” which in my opinion will always remain the greatest masterpiece on the life of JL. But it’s no faint praise in saying that this script within two hours conveys a greater understanding of John than the works of good authors such as Norman or Fast and certainly those of trash writers like Giuliano or Goldman.
You can look into the play more by logging on to their website www.sacrificialking.com Unfortunately, the play has had it’s run, but I hope it will be revived again sometime and possibly with the same actors. A good promotion among Beatle and Lennon fans would have ensured at least another week’s worth of attendance and possibly at a bigger house than the Access. I wish the best for the cast in their future careers and am very appreciative of their work as well as that of Mr. Anderson, Ms. McCarthy and the stage crew.