In 1949 American writer Jack Kerouac wrote this in a letter to a friend: "Nothing is true but everything is real." Kerouac went On The Road — and chronicled his years traveling the North American continent with his friend, Neal Cassady, in a quest for experience and self-knowledge during the late 1940s and early '50s.
But what about the two guys who might have been in the car behind Kerouac and Cassady? Who may have been following them, achieving their own enlightenment during the Beat Generation?
That is the premise explored by ZACH's newest play, Mad Beat Hip & Gone. In the world premiere of an original play written by Steven Dietz specifically for ZACH's first season in the new Topfer Theatre, Mad Beat Hip & Gone is a coming-of-age comedy that chronicles our rich and elusive dreams, immersing audiences in the cultural phenomenon of the beatniks.
It is the story of Danny Fergus and Rich Rayburn — the young guys in the car right behind Jack and Neal. What were these kids searching for in those "mad days" of "gone kids" trying so hard to be hip? Chock-full of smooth live jazz and exuberant theatricality, Mad Beat Hip & Gone answers these questions and more as it takes audiences on a journey back in time.
Though the audience is told in the first few moments of the production what will transpire, the scenes still come as a surprise. The story, which is anything but straightforward, is by turns funny, heartwarming and tragic — much like a trip down the open road.
"I know that young men marry themselves to wanderlust, and that they are forced to come of age through a series of goodbyes. The young men in this play really have no clue how to grow old. And that seems honest to me." - Dietz
“I’m thrilled to produce the world premiere of Mad Beat Hip & Gone, which was commissioned by the University of Texas College of Fine Arts," says Producing Artistic Director Dave Steakley.
"Steven teaches playwriting at UT, and it’s no secret we are big fans of his work, having produced his plays Shooting Star, Fiction, and Becky’s New Car. I’m in love with his new play, which sings with the beat poetry style made famous by Jack Kerouac and possesses Steven’s sly sense of humor and gift for a turn of phrase. The play also involves a live saxophone player on stage who interacts with the actors, punctuating the comedy with jazz riffs in a clever call and response.”
"If you read a lot of Kerouac, you can begin to feel that he is working at you from the inside. That he is the breath and your head is the horn he is playing," says Dietz, one of the most-produced playwrights in America. "Kerouac regularly doubles-down on the notion that we both live it and make it up at the same time. In doing so, he captures something fundamental to our brash young United States: the feeling that in a lively, hungry, restless country the only true moment is a goodbye."
Mad Beat Hip & Gone is what Dietz calls an attempt to tell not a real story, but a true one. "I don't know if a couple guys named Danny and Rich were in the Cheyenne bar that Kerouac describes early in On The Road, and I don't know if they followed him to Denver. But I know that young men marry themselves to wanderlust, and that they are forced to come of age through a series of goodbyes. The young men in this play really have no clue how to grow old. And that seems honest to me."
The show also debuts another first for ZACH: Balcony Plays, a new series of free shows that begin before select ZACH performances. The Balcony Plays offer a 10-30 minute performance open to everyone, whether they are coming to see a main stage production or just coming up from the hike and bike trail. This is the first-ever of what will become a new tradition at the Topfer Theatre.
The next Balcony Play, to be launched in conjunction with Harvey, opening May 15, will be a new comedic riff on A Midsummer Night's Dream. All Balcony Plays are free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are necessary.
Performances of Mad Beat Hip & Gone continue Wednesday - Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through April 28, 2013. To order tickets call 512-476-0541 ext. 1 or visit www.zachtheatre.org. Tickets range from $25-$65; student rush tickets are available one hour before showtime (with valid ID) for $18.