Beatle boys John and Paul each loved their mum--and they each lost her. That's one of the key themes running through Lennon and McCartney: The Day They Met, a new work by Denver playwright Michael A. Miller now being performed at the Mercury Cafe. Miller implies that the common loss may have helped the two future icons bond--an interesting idea. And though it has plenty of faults, Miller's play is interesting, too.
As a high school kid, John Lennon starts up a skiffle band called the Quarrymen with his mates Pete Shotton, Nigel Whalley and Ivan Vaughn. Ivan knows Paul McCartney at school, too, and finagles an audition of sorts for him with the boys' band. It is at once obvious that Paul is in charge of the meeting. Pete and Nigel are jealous and don't want him included. But Ivan and John bring him into the band. John and Paul hit it off immediately and turn the band toward rock and roll, figuring skiffle is on its way out, but rock will live forever. The two proto-Beatles then dump the dead weight in the band. The other boys are devastated--but, hey, that's showbiz.
John lives with his Aunt Mimi because his stepfather wouldn't let his mother keep him (sounds like a lame excuse to me). But he adores his mother--whom we never meet--and tells Aunt Mimi about the long, soulful talks he's had with her. He fights constantly with Aunt Mimi, a shrew who worries about appearances and keeps telling John to buckle down and make something of his life. But Mimi also genuinely cares for John, and when he fails all his high school exams, she frets and fumes hysterically. In the end, the old girl comes around, acknowledging John's right to have his own life, even if she doesn't fully understand it.
Miller lets Lennon bawl out his rage against society in his confrontations with his aunt. But John and Mimi don't listen to each other during these eruptions. And while many domestic disputes do have that neurotic character, Miller's scenes don't work very well as theater. They might have worked better if the playwright had given Mimi's position some credence; after all, lots of would-be rockers have dreams of glory, but very few make it in the real world.
Then, too, we've all heard so much about "having a dream"; it's the sentiment most often articulated in any success story about show business. Just hearing Lennon say it over and over doesn't make it more profound, and Miller's reliance on this central cliche scars the whole surface of the play.
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Unfortunately, Miller indulges quite a few other cliches--not the least of which is his tendency to oversentimentalize Lennon's suffering after his mother's death. One of the play's problems lies in Miller's apparent awe of--even reverence for--the Beatles. The play, for instance, starts with the voices of the boys' mothers meeting in heaven, an Elijah-meets-Mohammed approach that hardly seems warranted.
Despite its glaring blemishes, however, Lennon and McCartney still manages to be absorbing. This is pop history with an attitude, and most of the dialogue is well written and often intense.
The young cast lacks experience but not talent. While Jack Abbott as Paul is often too restrained, several of the other actors--including Jason Scandrol as John--have the opposite problem, substituting volume for seething passion. But all the energy feels true to youth--and true to the youthful ardor of the Beatles' music, which many of us still care about.