The world premiere of Jack Kerouac’s only full-length play, “Beat Generation,” drew a standing ovation from the opening night crowd last night at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. The production is a language fest with all the mundane and sublime elements that are expected in Kerouac’s writing. The play jumped off the pages of the book and onto the stage with tremendous energy and verbal drive. The piled up dialogue at times made me think of David Mamet and also the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First” (in the section about betting at the racetrack). Although simple and spare in set design, this is almost all the better for the words, the talk, to rule. The design touches, however, are evocative, particularly in Act III, when the characters gather in a late 50’s-looking living room—and the final image will stay with everyone.
Jeff Robinson accents the story with jazzy saxophone playing. Jeff was also featured in the 1991 MRT play “Maggie’s Riff,” which is Jon Lipsky’s adaption of Kerouac’s romance novel “Maggie Cassidy,” set in 1938-39 Lowell High School. Tony Crane as Buck and Joey Collins as Milo succeed beautifully as the Jack and Neal types, and Seamus F. Sargent makes a bemused, beatific, and baffled Bishop at the end. Kerouac kept all the good lines for the guys, in fact, almost all the lines. Maybe a couple of the female characters will shake up the scenes and spontaneously join the repartee.
The cast will take the stage only seven more times until Sunday night. For Kerouac readers and the culturally curious, this is something special for the arts in Lowell.