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Mom How Did You Like the Beatles
Kennedy's 65-minute response, written with her son, might have been of great interest to Adam. To an audience, the monologue, performed by Brenda Pressley and punctuated by the questions of William DeMeritt playing Adam offstage, may be so long-winded, poorly written and badly performed it's hard to even call it theater.
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Pressley's speech, delivered from a lectern, is at times accompanied by photos of London projected on a screen behind her, as well as music from the 60s, not necessarily by the Beatles. Other than that, it's hard to see what director Peter DuBois and set, costume and slide designer Alexander Dodge contributed.
Kennedy begins her story in New York City shortly after the run of her Obie award-winning play Funnyhouse of a Negro. She has just read John Lennon's collection of stories, In His Own Write, and the book has inspired her to write a play. Encouraged by friends, and with the hope of a Guggenheim grant, she travels to London with her young son.
The narrative relates in detail Kennedy's meetings with various people on the London theatrical scene of the 60s, some famous, others not so famous. There is a great deal of name-dropping. Kennedy meets James Earl Jones, attends a party for James Baldwin who asks her to "think of me as your brother," spies Natalie Wood shopping at Harrods and, at the high point of her London adventure, dines with Sir Laurence Olivier.
Liz Smith is a lot juicier, mostly because Smith is interested in the people she's writing about while Kennedy is primarily interested in herself. Yes, there are descriptions of the Beatles, how they looked and what they said, but aside from the revelation that Lennon liked to use the expression "toodleloo" there's not much new here.
Mom, How Did You Meet the Beatles? is neither well written nor well performed. It reached a point where if Pressley had said "I'll never forget" one more time, this reviewer was prepared to leave the theater. And her qualifying every adjective with "so" (as in he was so nice) gives the narration an adolescent, girlish quality that might be so sweet— if you like that sort of thing.
Even though Pressley performs the piece with the aid of notes, at the performance I attended she frequently had to backtrack to correct herself and was forever repeating the same observations. Was this an attempt to mimic improvisation or is Pressley just a bad actress? If she can act and was just faking it, she shouldn't have sullied her resume with this gig.
In the end, all of Kennedy's hopes fizzle out. Her idea is stolen and she is given only minimal credit by those who actually create the work, which, ironically, does not do well at all. This is a bitter pill to swallow and one cannot help but sympathize. On the other hand, given the level of writing on display in this piece one cannot blame the producers for letting wiser minds prevail.
Editor's Note: Don't let YOUR hopes fizzle about the PUBLIC LAB, a new play initiative by be the Public and the LABrynth Company, of which this is just the first of a series of new works to be presented every month through Spring — all at an easy to take a chance on ticket price of $10. Here's a list of forthcoming productions:
THE POOR ITCH March 7 - 23 By John Belluso. Directed by Lisa Peterson
THE CIVILIANS' PARIS COMMUNE April 4 - 20 By Steven Cosson and Michael Friedman. Directed by Steven Cosson
THE FEVER CHART: THREE VISIONS OF THE MIDDLE EAST April 25 - May 11 By Naomi Wallace. Directed by Jo Bonney
THE GOOD NEGRO May 16 - June 1 By Tracey Scott Wilson. Directed by Liesl Tommy
PENALTIES & INTEREST June 10- 28 By Rebecca Cohen.
SWEET STORM June 28 - 29 By Scott Hudson. Directed by Padriac Lillis
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