Ears on a Beatle

Mark St. Germain plays it coy -- and loses credibility -- with this faint-hearted political play about the FBI's rabid persecution of Beatle John Lennon for his anti-war activism. Play draws on archival docs released under the Freedom of Information Act and relies on solemn voiceovers to keep auds in the chronological loop of those loopy times.

With:
Howard Ballantine - Dan Lauria Daniel McClure - Bill Dawes

A correction was made to this review on Apr. 5, 2004.

Mark St. Germain plays it coy — and loses credibility — with this faint-hearted political play about the FBI’s rabid persecution of Beatle John Lennon for his anti-war activism during the paranoid Nixon era. Play draws on archival docs released under the Freedom of Information Act and relies on solemn voiceovers (“In Washington, five men were arrested at the Watergate Office Building on charges of breaking into Democratic headquarters”) to keep auds in the chronological loop of those loopy times. But scribe’s coquettish hints that Hoover’s boys played some role in the Lennon assassination are too lame to constitute a legitimate conspiracy theory.

The play isn’t so much about Lennon as it is about his iconic power over the hearts and minds of two average-Joe FBI operatives assigned to keep surveillance on his comings and goings for the better part of a decade. In St. Germain’s schematic plot, Howard (Dan Lauria) is the reactionary old war-horse who comes to embrace Lennon’s love-and-peace message after an upfront and personal encounter with the man himself, while Daniel (Bill Dawes) is the idealistic kid who becomes disillusioned after witnessing Lennon behaving badly to a young woman.

The ham-handed characterizations are so simplistic, they make the FBI guys look monumentally stupid, undermining the audience’s involvement in their ethical dilemmas and leaving the actors (under the author’s broad-as-a-barn-door direction) nowhere honorable to go.

Lauria (“The Guys”), an expressive character actor who could find something sympathetic to play if cast as a baby-killer, applies the soft touch with Howard. But Dawes (“The Exonerated”) goes for the obvious, making Daniel’s transformation from Lennon-lover to hippie-hater even chillier than it needs to be.

Both thesps are comfortable, though, slinging the corny give-and-take banter of partners who come to know one another from long and boring hours in the trenches. That these stretches in the trenches are also long and boring for the audience is the unfortunate fallout of a production that was smartly conceived but superficially executed.

Ears on a Beatle

DR2 Theater, New York; 99 seats; $40 top

Production: A Daryl Roth, Leon Wildes, and Debra Black presentation of a new play in one act written and directed by Mark St. Germain.

Creative: Set, Eric Renschler; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Daniel Ordower; sound, Randy Hansen; projections, Carl Casella; production stage manager, Brian Maschka. Opened March 28, 2004. Reviewed March 30. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: Howard Ballantine - Dan Lauria Daniel McClure - Bill Dawes

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