By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Director Andre Carriere doesn’t do much to enliven things, either, and allows Bobatoon’s sax and vocal riffs to occasionally drown out Samuelson’s admittedly low-key delivery. The latter’s performance ends up exsanguinating an already anemic and lethargic text. The problem isn’t that the young actor isn’t the right age to play the middle-aged Kerouac seen at the show’s top — it’s that he can’t play a broken middle-aged man when he needs to and is too tentative a presence onstage to be a confused teenager. We get no indications from Samuelson’s line readings or body language of the deeply troubled spirit who would one day reconfigure our notions of what literature and personal freedom are.
Elsewhere, Obstler and Chokachi are audible and emotional enough, which only tends to make Jack more of a cipher. Still, this play is a difficult trick to pull off in the best of circumstances, and Knightsbridge should be applauded for pushing its talents. The promise of Carriere’s production lies in its visual and sound designs. Although it runs on a comparatively spare set (the same stage where A Christmas Carol was performing), Maggie’s Riff benefits from Joseph Stachura’s brick-wall backdrop (the very image of small-town America that always haunted Kerouac) and Lucas Brown’s hellishly lit piano, where Dr. Sax sits on an elevated part of the stage. A psychologically wan story like this needs more juicing up, and Carriere could have used a lot more lighting and music effects.
The ultimate irony that befell Kerouac was that he was forever identified with a 1950s cool-jazz mystique that gave us bongos, berets and turtlenecks, yet his life and writing were forged in the bebop heat of the double-breasted 1940s. To thousands of young suburban Siddharthas, Kerouac became a road prophet, leading them to enlightenment along a highway of kicks stretching from Big Sur to Millbrook Farm. As long as they were on this road, they were bohemians — part of a vast apartness.
Today, in an age when people are what they wear and drive, there are Kerouac conferences, the Annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival and even a Jack Kerouac bobble-head doll. Had he lived, Kerouac could’ve comfortably gotten by on Johnnie Walker endorsements alone. But then, his life would have been the longest death in literature.
MAGGIE’S RIFF| By JON LIPSKY | At KNIGHTSBRIDGE THEATER, 1944 Riverside Drive, L.A. | Through February 4 | (323) 667-0955