“Imagine“. Two young mop-haired men, tired from a hard day’s night, are lead into a shabby hotel room (a straight forward scenic design by Michael Ganio). Stranded because of a big storm, the two hunker down for the night. They are trapped, not so much by the wind and rain just outside the door, courtesy of the well crafted lighting and projection design by Dan Kotlowitz (Northern Stage’s Macbeth), but because these young gents just happen to be two of the most famous men on the planet, now and then, and outside are throngs of screaming girls. What happens between these two famous rock legends, Paul McCartney and John Lennon sings out with an effervescent beauty, charming us almost as completely as they do the young Shirley Knapp, sweetly portrayed in cramped quarters by Olivia Swayze (Northern Stage’s Our Town). Based on an interview response made by McCartney on the radio years ago, Northern Stage’s Only Yesterday written by Bob Stevens (‘The Wonder Years’, ‘Night Court’) attempts to take us to that night when the young men, exhausted after months on the road, bond over some song writing sessions, a shared tragedy, and a few bottles of liquor drink down on a stormy night.
“All I Have To Do Is Dream” this rock star dream, as the play carries its tender and kind heart on its sleeve. “How do You Do It“, you might ask: with the solid and musically talented cast that allows the boyishly handsome and endearing Tommy Crawford (Naked Angel’s SeaWife) as Paul and the smart and sassy Christopher Sears (Public’s Gently Down the Stream) as John, do their damnedest to entertain and engage. These two fine actors and their legendary characters love music, obviously, with their heart and Elvis soul. They strum their guitars with glee and finesse, singing other people’s iconic songs, and allowing us a view inside their devotion to their craft. It’s a pleasure to be in their company, feeding off their energy, wild spirit, and their progressive call demanding an end of segregation in a Jacksonville music hall. “Do You Want To Dance” to “Be Bop A Lula“? All I can say to that, is “Rollover Beethoven“, I do, “Everyday” to that “Rock and Roll Music” in the “House of the Rising Sun“.
The music and engagement sings forth, strong and fun. Directed with love by Carol Dunne (Off Broadway’s Trick or Treat), the two do what many young men do when they’re bored silly and lost; get drunk, sing some songs, play their guitars (ever so wonderfully), poke at one another, and have a few laughs. Their trusted father-like road manager, portrayed wryly by Christopher Flockton (Rumble in the RedRoomsketch comedy ensemble) tries his best to keep them reined in and taken care of, but the young men, slickly costumed by Allison Crutchfield (Northern Stage’s Into the Woods), get restless, and after a feeble attempt to get some work done, they toss “Help” aside, and head down to the bar. I was sad to see them go because it is there, behind the pint glass where the two are going to get to the juice of the matter. And I wanted to stay alongside, and hear that progression.
In that construct is where the difficulty within the play resides. It takes a bit too long for these two engaging souls to get to the meat of the matter and in some ways it feels like we got left out of the lead up. Even at a short 75 minutes, the play seems to be overflowing with sweet but meaningless run-off. Much like those bags filled with fan mail, Only Yesterday is jammed with words that are charming, funny, but ultimately pointless to the bigger issue at the core of these two young men. The actors are playful and their characters a pleasure to be with and as they distract themselves in a game of Monopoly and bevy of fantastic cover songs, but we have to find the patience to sit back and wait for them to leave for the bar and come back again before we get fed the meal we came for, and beans and toast is just not enough. Then, and only then does the talk begin to strike down into the depth of seriousness like the lightening above, riding the winds of a hurricane of childhood loss and pain to the stomach churning end. In the crescendo of their song do we find the touching heart break, especially as portrayed by these two fine young men doing a damn good job portraying rock and roll legends. Their interactions and the way these young men dissect and discuss their shared tragedy is the inspiration for the play and the music that they created. As much as I’d like to “Let It Be“, the Mother Mary moment surges forward and passes in an instant. The times of trouble, long built up over the first 2/3rds of the play doesn’t deliver the goods as much as the songs deliver the emotional pain. That’s a shame as Only Yesterday is lovely and sweet in its desire to give more and let us see more. Maybe it is as close as the writer could get to guessing what happened that little known night in Key West, Florida, but somehow he needed to find more to unearth a stronger last verse to keep us leaning in for the duration. The words of wisdom sings by far too fast to grab hold and ingest. They roll out the next morning , diving back into their world a bit more entwined but leaving us a bit underwhelmed. It’s too bad, as it could have been “bloody brilliant” like the Beatlemania madness screaming love outside the motel.
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