How much must an artist sacrifice in order to fulfill his soul? Is there any distinction between one's art and one's life? If so, what is it? These are the intriguing questions asked in World 3 Theatre Company's superb new production, The Sacrificial King...A Play for John Lennon.
Currently in a limited run at the Access Theatre, this insightful drama is the first play by professional photographer and poet Margaret McCarthy. The audience is taken on an intellectual, spiritual, and emotional ride as they follow several decades (and several parallel scenes) in the lives of musical legend John Lennon and a young girl struggling between her art and identity.
The play opens in early 1960's America, with the young girl (Randy Glass) sitting in her backyard scanning the airwaves on her little portable radio. Suddenly, she comes across this fascinating music that just makes her get up and dance--a song by the Beatles. We discover soon after that this young girl has a depth and intelligence that is way beyond her years. While playing imaginary adventure games with her best friend (Tara Lynn Orr), for example, she confounds her friend by utilizing an elevated vocabulary and a flair for the dramatic.
The story then cuts to 1957 England, where a young couple of lads, John Lennon (Peter Byrne) and Paul McCartney (Paul Jones), meet for the first time at a church event. John notices that Paul has a guitar with him, so he asks him if he plays. By a miraculous coincidence, he does play and writes as well--and musical magic begins. Byrne and Jones at first appear intimidated by portraying two of the most famous personalities of all time, but once they start portraying the two who wrote "I Saw Her Standing There," all is forgotten. The joy and enthusiasm the actors have while playing this tune sets a wonderfully naturalistic and absolutely believable mood that carries through the rest of the play.
The rest of Act I shifts between the two girls, who now share a deep obsession for the Liverpool quartet; John and Paul, meanwhile, are embroiled in an insanely successful career. Thankfully, Glass and Orr are freed at this point from portraying youngsters, and bring a wonderful vibrancy and camaraderie to a rather clichéd scene in which they break into the Beatles' hotel room and try to figure out whose sheets are whose. Byrne and Glass continue making one believe that you are watching two gifted artists in the process of creation.
Act II starts with an older, recast John Lennon (Christopher McGill), and his new bride, Yoko Ono (Jun Kim), on a camping trip. They talk about their love for each other as well as the art that draws them together. In a brilliant contrast, the rest of the ensemble stands behind them, blurting out cynical comments that both the press and public have often used to describe the pair. McGill doesn't just do a fantastic Lennon impersonation he uncannily embodies the heart and soul that gave so much to humanity.
Towards the end of the play, there is a tremendous scene about the meaning of life and art. In the scene, the stage is split. On one side we have John Lennon, on the other, the girl, now a young woman, and her mother. John starts talking about how he tired of creating music with the Beatles, and how he has to now figure out how to raise a baby. He relays that Yoko made a pact with him: She will take care of the child for nine months, after which the child will become his responsibility. Meanwhile, the mother looks on as the daughter works on a painting. She tells her how much it would be better if she would put a baby in her arms rather than a painting. The daughter tells her that her art takes every bit of herself to create and that there could never be time for a family. The mother shoots back, contending that the best creation of all is the raising of a child. The stories overlap each other and many important questions are raised that really have no definitive answers. Throughout, Glass's portrayal of two decades in the life of the nameless girl is nothing short of a revelation. Her intensity, dedication and enthusiasm for the embodiment of this struggling artist had me riveted to her every word and gesture.
The rest of the ensemble provides excellent support as well; Kim, as Yoko Ono, is not only totally believable but really helped display the sacred bond between two people dedicated to creating. Carla Briscoe as the girl's mother brought a nice authority to her role as the voice of parental reason. As the ethereal character, The Witness, Laine Satterfield endows McCarthy's poetic interludes with a charming mysticism. The rest of the cast (Karen Frazier, Kyra Himmelbaum, Dave Lovercheck, Eric F. Peterson, Shelby Rosenblaum, and Andrew T. Scully) also provided excellent support with their various characterizations. Director Darren Anderson utilized the minimalist set with ensemble choreography and vivid projection images that appear throughout the play on the back center wall.
Ultimately, The Sacrificial King is more than just a chronicle of the lives of Lennon and a young girl, but an emotional plea for people to know the depths of the art they adore. That is: Is it enough to just view the painting, listen to the music, hear the baby cry, or are we as a human race obligated to seek the underlying meaning and cherish it for the passion it infuses?