An adolescent girl, looking like an outcast in pigtails and harlequin glasses, turns the dial on her transistor radio until she hears a tune she likes: "I Want to Hold Your Hand." She breaks into an exuberant, cathartic dance.
Next we see another misunderstood adolescent. Scarred by his mother's death and father's abandonment, he too seeks solace-and meaning to life-in music. This is the young John Lennon, and at a church festival he befriends another motherless teenager, Paul McCartney. They bond over the guitar and later make a "blood pact" as a songwriting team. Meanwhile, our young heroine forges a blood pact of her own-with her best friend and partner in make-believe. While playing in the woods, they press their pricked fingers together and swear to be together always.
These two parallel stories are playwright Margaret McCarthy's attempt to honor the Beatles legend as both a cultural influence and a sociological metaphor. The Sacrificial King intertwines Lennon's biography with the life story of the character identified only as Young Girl, who grows up to become a painter who must battle both her mother and the art establishment for respect. Young Girl endures the same creative struggles and interpersonal turmoil as her idol. But McCarthy is not only addressing idealism and artistic integrity in this "play for John Lennon," as The Sacrificial King is subtitled. As the title suggests, McCarthy also sees Lennon as emblematic of society's penchant for creating, revering, then destroying its heroes.
The Sacrificial King doesn't quite cohere into the poetic, meaningful oeuvre that's intended. The parallels between the two friendships (as well as the relationship of celebrity to fan) are well-drawn in the touching scenes of Lennon and McCartney's early collaboration and the girls' childhood antics. But the dichotomous storyline is not so balanced in the second act: while Young Girl's adulthood was enacted onstage, Lennon's post-Beatles life was mostly narrated by the actor portraying him. It's never made clear why the female friends become estranged. Furthermore, the perils of idolatry do not emerge as a significant theme. They were represented only by the neurotic ramblings of a character called Gunman and by pretentious "choreography" involving the ensemble. Their activity-which mainly involved walking in formation with umbrellas-distracted from rather than enhanced the plot, and their symbolism was nebulous. The ensemble's movements were just one unnecessary affectation in the production; others included slides, taped voiceovers, and a narrator known as Witness. Using her to state ideas suggests the playwright did not trust her story to convey them adequately.
The work would also have been served by stronger performances. Randi Glass portrayed awkward, starry-eyed adolescence well as Young Girl but was flat as a grownup. Carla Briscoe, as her mother, was devoid of inflections. Charming Tara Lynn Orr, as the best friend, made the greatest impression. Christopher McGill offered a fine Lennon impersonation and resemblance; Peter Byrne, as the young Lennon, looked more like Buddy Holly, and his accent sometimes sounded Scottish. The era was evoked nicely in a flower-festooned set, although no designer was credited.
(Also featuring Paul Jones, Jun Kim, Laine Satterfield, Eric S. Peterson, Karen Frazier, Kyra Himmelbaum, Shelby Rosenblaum, Dave Lovercheck and Andrew T. Scully. Costumes, Jessica Jahn and Michelle Nagy; lighting, Anthony DeMeglio; sound, David Wu.)
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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri