I’m probably going to finish most of the bottle of whiskey sitting next to me as I write this review, fair warning. But then, that just feels to me like what you should do when writing about a show inspired by the life, times, words and legend of William S.Burroughs, the grumpy old man of Kerouac’s Beat Generation. And when that show is UNDERBELLY from Stars and Hearts, aka Jayson McDonald, one of my personal Theatre heroes and the creator of incredible shows like BOAT LOAD and GIANT INVISIBLE ROBOT…well, Hell son, I’ll drink to that.
UNDERBELLY is McDonald’s one-man show (directed by longtime collaborator Jeff Culbert, a theatrical force in his own right and no fooling) about the aforementioned beat-poet legend Burroughs, probably most famous these days for his novel NAKED LUNCH, among others. Old man Burroughs was an eclectic thinker to say the least, a brilliant wordsmith, a refreshingly unrepentant junkie, and pretty much a hardcore nihlist. So, this is not exactly GIANT INVISIBLE ROBOT II. But that turns out to be a very good thing indeed.
Moving from scene to scene in slouched pose and crumpled suit, MacDonald leads us thru the fragments of fact and fiction that comprise his take on the Burroughs legend, including a seriously impressive bit in which the poet’s famous ‘cut-up’ technique is demonstrated both verbally AND visually…it looks about as simple as juggling live sharks, and Jay Mac pulls it off with style. It’s a verbally heavy show, delivered in a patois that sounds eerily Hunter S.Thompson-esque to my ears, but it all works…MacDonald takes to the deft wordplay in his script like a duck to water, impressing consistently in increasingly oddball scenes about societal hypocrisy, police brutality, drug abuse and nuclear holocaust, among many others. McDonald’s emulation of Burroughs’ style, and the beats in general, is flawless (Alan Moore could take a tip or two from him, having tried the same trick in his BLACK DOSSIER hardcover and not succeeding half as well), and pretty endlessly entertaining to listen to.
A few guest-stars feature into the show, including Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsburg, with beautifully staged shifts that take a nice twist on the traditional one-manner approach to multiple characters. It’s an amazing, psychedelic show, with some pretty cool light and sound cues (from Culbert and McDonald themselves) that accentuate the closely controlled madness we’re witnessing, or what some folks call genius. Close line to tread, really. Thank Fuck we have our own mad genius Jayson McDonald to guide us through, and he does it in a performance you’ll remember for as long as you can remember things. This is the best way I can think of to start the year, and there’s a seriously good chance I’ll be be back again tomorrow. UNDERBELLY is good medicine, folks. Take it, and see how it surprises you. Because it WILL. Peace, love and soul,