Playhouse Review: ‘The Day They Shot John Lennon’ Probes Our Dark Sides

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Playhouse kicked off the Griffith-Adler season this weekend with the James McClure play, “The Day They Shot John Lennon.” The title is actually a misnomer since the play takes place the day after Lennon is gunned down outside of his Manhattan apartment.

Director Frank Martin has put together a strong cast of nine actors who weave their way in and out of a crowd discussing Lennon, world affairs, war, sexism, racism and everything in between. The nine reflect a cross section of everyone in attendance at the murder site that we don’t see.

As per any event of this magnitude, the play opens with all nine characters on stage relating where they were and what they were doing when they heard of Lennon’s untimely death. The breadth of emotion which is about to play out is evident as each character relates their own heartfelt account of how they felt about the news.

Although this is an ensemble show hinging on each character’s relationship with each other as well as the group as a whole, Terry Shears stands out as Morris in an “almost” lead role. Morris is a very elderly Jewish man who lives in the neighborhood and provides much of the comedy in an otherwise dramatic piece. Shears’ portrayal is so believable that anyone not knowing him would believe he was just being himself. Morris finds himself in a constant battle with Larry, played by Arcale Peace. Larry’s style of mourning is by loudly playing the Beatles over his portable boombox. Shears uses his physical attributes to sell the aged Morris with profound excellence. His comedy timing is so impeccable that even the old man’s sad loneliness averts the feeling of pity by the audience.

Peace is a perfect foil for Shears as a loud, very aggressive, young black man who has little patience with the old man at the outset. Peace delicately turns the character, however, and shows a somewhat nicer side without making the change so blatant as to be unrealistic.

Silvio and Gately are two Vietnam veterans played by Eric Kibler and Chris DeFrank, respectively. Both are war weary with Silvio spewing out conspiracy theories on every front, while Gately is a very troubled sole seemingly suffering from his Vietnam experiences. Kibler gives a hard-core feel to Silvio who seems to lack any range of emotion for anything – even explaining away any killing he did in Vietnam as almost all in a day’s work. DeFrank is very convincing in his portrayal of Gately. He keeps the character just off center enough that you can feel something simmering just under the surface.

Fran and Brian wonder in and out starting with a somewhat uncomfortable impromptu conversation initiated by Brian. Brandy Johanntges gives Fran all the fire she can muster up as a full fledged “women’s libber.” The pain she feels about Lennon’s death is real as it bubbles over into other areas. Carl Brockway gives one of his finest performances as Brian. It is obvious from the start that Brian’s interest in Fran goes far beyond the event that initiated their meeting. Brockway’s sometimes awkwardness was well played and he was easily able to shift into another gear as Fran and Brian get to know each other better.

Kevin, Sally, and Mike are played by Joshua Yoder, Meredith Pallo, and Cyrus Dzikowski, respectively. The three characters are high school students that are there for the same reason as everyone else – what makes them different is that they are more hung up on romantic relationships than on Lennon’s passing. If there is any weak link in this production it seems to be here. Yoder, Pallo, and Dzikowski all played their characters well but seemed to suffer from a lack of believability in certain scenes. Part of the problem could have been due to the fact that these characters just don’t seem to be as well drawn by the playwright as the others. The exception to this is Mike who seems to have more depth than the other two.

Technical director Johnny Pecano created a simple set that serves the location and the actors well. With a single backdrop fronted with a bench, it provides unrestricted space for the cast to move in and out

“The Day They Shot John Lennon” provides many viewpoints and numerous issues for the audience to contemplate. Although written some years ag,o it is still contemporary today. With the recent rise in violence pretty much everywhere, it gives us all a lot to think about.

WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE
“The Day They Shot John Lennon” will continue Nov. 12, 18, 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Nov. 13, 20 at 2:30 p.m.

Pictured at top: A scene from The Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “The Day They Shot John Lennon.”

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