Who was John Lennon? An artist? A visionary? A drug addict? Someone who profoundly affected 20th century America?
Perhaps all of these are true, which is why his murder, on Dec. 8, 1980, is still regarded as one of the country's foremost tragedies. And why it inspired a play by James McClure titled The Day They Shot John Lennon, performed by Theatre Tulsa this weekend and last in the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Liddy Doenges Theatre, 110 E. 2nd St.
Directed by Jim Queen and featuring a mixed cast of theater newbies and veterans, The Day They Shot John Lennon takes place the day after the musician's untimely death. Crowds of New Yorkers gather outside the Dakota apartments where the murder took place -- to mourn, to pay their respects, out of curiosity, because they're not sure what else to do. Within these crowds, McClure assembles a diverse cast of characters -- a couple of yuppies, two Vietnam veterans, a black man, an old Jewish guy and a trio of high school hippies -- brought together by the tragedy.
Theatre Tulsa's version of the play opens with a slideshow history lesson, recapping the events -- deaths, destruction and tragedies, really -- of the last 30 years. I found this ineffective and unnecessary. If the company really wanted to give the audience a history lesson, one about the history of The Beatles' or the state of the country at the time of Lennon's death would have been more relevant.
There were some issues with the direction, too. As the play's dialogue moves from person to person, those who aren't speaking seem a little unsure of what to do when the lights aren't on them and end up staring into space. It makes the audience wonder what their motivation is -- not only as actors but as characters as well. Why have they assembled themselves at the place where John Lennon was killed? They don't seem to know.
And then, when it was their turn to speak, they did so almost out of nowhere. There was little leading up to the dialogue to provide it context, so, again, motivation was an issue.
Still, some of the acting was quite fantastic. Curt Cox, as Silvio, the disenchanted Vietnam vet who convenes outside the apartment building less out of mourning and more out of a desire to make a business deal -- he and his cohort, Gately (Brian Nelson) are pickpockets -- was superb. Sure, he's disenchanted, but it's more than that. He's still reeling from the war, still trying to figure out where he belongs in a post-Vietnam world. And despite his gruff exterior, he's not hardened, which would have been the easy choice for Cox.
Instead, he's complex -- just a man trying to figure out where he belongs. Which makes him the play's perfect Everyman.
Freddie Tate as Larry, the wanna-be comic with a criminal record, and Tom Bereson as Morris, the elderly Jewish man who confuses John Lennon with Jack Lemmon, who just follows the crowd outside his building, looking for someone to talk to, also offer superb performances.
The cast also includes Samantha Woodruff, Carly Perry, Harley Turner, Barrett Glosson and Robert Young.
As Silvio points out in the play's first act, darker tragedies than John Lennon's death have befallen the country. But people didn't and don't connect with them -- with the Vietnam War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example -- like they do the murder of as celebrity. People feel close to, or want to feel close to, the famous, and so they consider the death of John Lennon a hard-hitting, close-to-home tragedy. But through that, perhaps they can feel something stronger, something bigger. Perhaps they can connect to the rest of the world because they connect to the music of a man who was murdered by a fan.
The Day They Shot John Lennon continues Nov. 4-6 at 7:30pm Tickets are $15 at tulsapac.com.
Also on Stage
Nov. 3-4, Choregus Productions presents DRUMLine Live, an international theatrical event celebrating the style and flair of historically black college and university marching bands. The show is based on the 2002 movie Drumline.
Bethlehem, Pa.'s The Morning Call said of the show: "It's a marching band extravaganza that parades out of the football stadium onto the stage with explosive percussion, resounding brass and dazzling choreography."
The show incorporates original compositions and soul-infused interpretations of Top 40 hits, colorful choreographed routines and pulsating drum riffs and cadences. It begins at 7:30pm both evenings in the Tulsa PAC's Chapman Music Hall. Tickets are $25-$45 at the PAC's website.
Nov. 5-6 and 9, Heller Theatre presents Theresa Rebeck's Mauritus, in which half-sisters inherit a stamp collection that might or might not be worth millions. Things take a turn for the worse when one of the sisters seeks out the help of a trio of collectors of shady reputation, each with his own plan of securing the prize for himself.
The play begins at 7:30pm at Henthorne Park, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Tickets are $10 at hellertheatre.com.
On Nov. 5 at 7pm, the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust presents "Masked Marvels & Wondertales," Michael Cooper's one-man extravaganza, which features handcrafted masks, original stories of courage and wonder, outlandish stilt dancing and a vast repertoire of physicality ranging from the madcap to the sublime. The show plays in the PAC's John H. Williams Theatre and is recommended for audience members in third grade and older. Tickets are $8 at the PAC's website.
On Nov. 7 at 3pm, Chamber Music Tulsa presents the Juniper String Quartet in the PAC's John H. Williams Theatre. An ensemble composed of husband, wife, sister and friend, the Jupiter String Quartet has received numerous awards, including an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and membership in the prestigious Lincoln Center Chamber Society Two Program.
The musicians met at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where they received instruction by eminent musicians, including the Takacs Quartet. The New York Sun calls the group "one of the strongest string quartets in the country." Tickets to the show are $25.
Choregus Productions, on Nov. 9-10, presents the Trey McIntyre Project at 7:30pm in the PAC's Williams Theatre.
In July 2005, Trey McIntyre Project came onto the national dance scene as a summer touring company with its debut performance at the Vail International Dance Festival. The troupe's "fresh and forward-thinking choreography" (Washington Post) was an immediate sensation with critics and audiences alike, and they went on to perform at some of the most prestigious summer venues in the country, including Jacob's Pillow and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.
The company will perform "Wild Sweet Love," "Pork Songs" and the newly created "Jaialdi." Tickets are $40.
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