Kerouac Jack | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Kerouac Jack 

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Kerouac Jack, Noble Fool Theater Company. As often as improvisers compare their work to jazz riffs, they rarely deliver a show that actually draws on the rhythms of bebop and its near cousin, beat writing. Or if they do, they produce bongo-beating, shades-wearing stereotypes. Director John Gawlik's improvised take on Jack Kerouac's signature novel, On the Road, doesn't entirely avoid the self-consciousness that can plague both beat writers and inexperienced improvisers. A couple of the actors in this six-member ensemble would benefit from listening more closely to their fellow performers in order to know exactly where the scenes are set--the side of a road versus a moving boxcar, for example.

But Uptown Poetry Slam maestro Marc Smith brings an infectious, hip glee to his role as host, and Plasticene vet Dominic Conti displays the appropriate loose physical grace as devil-may-care Neal Cassady. Noble Fool stalwart Jethro Nolen as Kerouac's autobiographical hero Sal Paradise provides the quiet glue for this meandering journey, inspired by audience suggestions of places and objects from Eisenhower-era America. The piece is bookended by the cast's remembrances of road trips past, and a second-act improv jam draws on an audience member's own travel story, rendered with a surprising poignancy at the performance I saw. The onstage jazz trio--Al Ehrich, Kelly Brand, and Jeff Stitley--keeps up a righteous beat throughout.

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