Adapted by Marilyn Campbell
Directed by Ann Filmer
Produced by 16th Street Theater
At the Berwyn Cultural Center
- I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
- dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
- Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection
- to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night, – “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg
The 50’s beatniks come alive in Berwyn
They’re all here: Kerouac, Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones, Ferlinghetti, DiPrima. Beat poets took on 1950’s mainstream America and dragged change kicking and screaming into the ’60s. Featured in the steamy coffee shops and pot-smoked filled poetry dens of Soho, in New York’s Greenwich Village, the Beats were a group of ant-social poets, musicians and storytellers who bravely challenged the conservative status quo of American post war society. They questioned everything: rules of society, literature forms, dress codes, sexual identity and sexual expression. The dared to be different and they were anti-war, anti capitalism and they encouraged drinking, smoking (including pot) and drug swallowing.
They communicated their ideas and angst through music – jazz and folk especially but their focus was free expression styled poetry performed in coffee shop dens in NYC’s Greenwick Village. The movement eventually spread to Chicago in dens on Wells Street’s Old Town and on Sheridan Road near Loyola University in the mid to late 1950’s.
The 16th Street production of The Beats is a lively glimpse into the ideas and personalities of some of the Beats’ leading characters. Told in brilliantly articulated performances by Adam Poss as K (Holy Hipster), John Taflan G (The Student), Malcolm Callan S (Dharma Bum), Jon McGilberry J (Jazz Cat) and Carly Ciarrocchi D (Beat Chick), with terrific underscoring and atmospheric jazz tunes from Grant Strombeck (drums) and Doug Lofstrom (bass).
We hear the rhythm, the beats, the anger, the frustration, and the pleading of The Beats through their poetry and memoirs collected and adapted by Marilyn Campbell from the work such as “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, “Bomb” by Gregory Corso, with excerpts from “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac among other strong exemplary Beat works marvelously presented by the energetic cast.
The Beats is a slick poetry reading meets character sketch meets memoir that presents, defines, and unleashes the ideas, emotions and frustrations of the young liberated intellectuals in defiance of all social norms of their time. They paved the the way for the social and political upheaval of the 60’s.
Director Filmer has cast quite strong, articulate actors deft at enunciating the words and the emotions of the Beats. This show is both informative and entertaining. Once you tune-in to the pace and language of The Beats, it’ll engage you and propel you into the revolutionary world of change proposed by these mavericks. The range of the material covered in two hours is impressive and the performances by all five players were truthful and heartfelt. I can’t think of a finer way to experience the important contribution to the American Experience by the Beats of the 1950’s than by seeing Ann Filmer and Marilyn Campbell’s spirited ode to The Beats. You’ll have fun and you’ll be impressed.
At the Berwyn Cultural Center, 6420 16th Street, berwyn, IL, call 708-795-6704, www.16thstreettheater.org, tickets $18, (student rush $10 day of the show only), Thursdays & Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through February 5, 2011