Sunday, April 21, 2013

Mad Beat Hip & Gone by Steven Dietz, Zach Theatre, April 3 - 28, 2013

ALT reviewMad Beat Hip and Gone Steven Dietz Zach Theatre Austin TX

by Michael Meigs

At first I was disconcerted by the time-line.

Playwright-director Steven Dietz places his creations the Nebraska buddies Danny and Rich in 1949 and engineers an encounter with beat adventurers Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady. We don't see it; as in ancient Greek theatre that event is reported to us, endowing it with distant mystery and epic sense.

But in the opening scenes of Mad Beat Hip & Gone, suddenly Jacob Trussell as Danny is ranting center stage in full Beat style, declaiming verse that has no rhyme, not much reason, a rush of disconnected jagged images. Now how did this smalltown boy start channeling the fullblown Kerouac style, when On the Road wasn't published until 1951?

But I got over that. Dietz made it clear before too long that he was taking us to fantasy land, where his two protagonists weren't really tracking or channeling the beats; they were engaged in their own shambolic adolescent plunge toward adulthood. It takes the entire first act to get Danny and his gregariously goofy buddy Rich (Jon Cook) into the front seat of the sedan that's going to be their literary vehicle.

Mad Beat Hip and Gone Steven Dietz Zach Theatre Austin TX

They don't have much help growing up in that first act. Danny's father disappeared long ago, although Rick Roemer regularly appears in that role, always ineptly tangled up in something or other. No adult help there; he's long gone, another fantasy figure, wearing a suit but walking gnomically barefoot or appearing as a traveling salesman, always present but always absent. 

 Babs George as Danny's mom is equally unhelpful, a sort of spiritual weather vane spinning merrily in the winds of her own cheerfully unapologetic irresponsibility.

And The Girl -- doesn't every coming-of-age fable need A Girl? -- dominates the second act. First encountered in the company of Jack and Neal, Erin Barlow as Honey becomes real for us after the intermission when our protagonists, too, get to the land of dreams in San Francisco. Pale, hip, distracted, a beat hanger-on, she's with us just long enough to drive our boys wild and then to disappear into the fog of the Golden Gate. Then they learn that yet another jumper has thrown herself from that span down into the void.

Topaz McGarrigle hangs about the stage during much of this, working his melodious saxophone.

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