Beautiful Losers at Tapac

By Paul Simei-Barton

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Paul Glover and Scott Wills as Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady in Beautiful Losers. Photo / Supplied
Paul Glover and Scott Wills as Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady in Beautiful Losers. Photo / Supplied

Beautiful Losers is a heartfelt tribute to American writer Jack Kerouac and his larger-than-life muse Neal Cassady - the free-wheeling drifter who was the inspiration for On the Road.

The Beat Generation classic published in 1957 is often cited as the essential catalyst for the cultural revolution of the 1960s, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest it continues to work its magic for today's readers - luring sober citizens from the dull routines of conventional existence with an intoxicating vision of ecstatic personal freedom.

Margaret-Mary Hollins' stylish direction captures the wild, fragmented quality of Kerouac's writing while emphasising the historical context that gave birth to the Beat movement.

The electrifying rhythm of bebop pulses through the show, and Mike Hudson's perceptive script situates the optimistic energy of 1950s youth culture within the American frontier tradition.

As Kerouac and Cassady speed through the desert on their way to visit William Burroughs in Mexico they seem to embody the restless spirit of Hollywood cowboys - haunted by the trauma of broken homes and driven onward by sentimental longing for a bucolic domestic paradise.

Scott Wills convincingly portrays Cassady as a mythical shape-shifter, switching from romantic enthusiast to low-life hustler, generous buddy or spaced-out madman juggling a hammer while quoting scripture.

Paul Glover captures the earnestness of Kerouac's youthful commitment to his art, as well as the pathos of his transformation into a boorish drunk after he achieved celebrity status.

There is no reason why a Kiwi playwright should not celebrate the genius of an influential American author, but the show might have packed more punch if it had found a way to address how Kerouac's call of the wild was received in our own backyard.

REVIEW

What: Beautiful Losers
Where: Tapac until September 8

- NZ Herald

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