Can an afternoon interview with a doomed rock star be transformed into a two-act play? If the author is local playwright Steven Roseta and David Natale is playing John Lennon, the answer is yes.
Using material from Lennon's little-known final interview, recorded for RKO Radio just hours before he was murdered on Dec. 8, 1980, Roseta somehow avoids turning the play into one long rant. Yes, Lennon could be a motormouth and the dialect-perfect Natale certainly plays him that way, but Roseta gives a shape to the piece that allows it to build to a poignant and surprisingly emotional climax.
Bouncing around on a set that suggests a vast wall of newsprint-covered filing cabinets, Natale portrays Lennon as a spinning top, shooting off in several directions while the other characters can only try to catch up with him. One minute he's discussing his previous marriage ("my other wife and kid") or the duties of a house husband. Later he's describing in astonishing detail a cosmic experience from his childhood.
Lennon makes his entrance about 15 minutes into the play, interrupting his wife, Yoko Ono (Naho Shioya), and the interviewer, Burt (Brian Upton), who have started the conversation without him. Instantly Lennon becomes the center of attention, eclipsing the others with discussions of music, feminism, Vietnam, religion, Reaganism and the art of playing daddy with son Sean.
Yet those first 15 minutes are not without interest. Yoko is a three-dimensional figure here, partly because her character is so firmly established in those opening moments. Shioya is given the time to portray Yoko's independence as well as her ability to express herself succinctly.
In Upton's capable hands, Burt is something of an enigma, snoopy and distracted and not always a great listener. Only occasionally does he reveal himself. At one crucial point he makes the humiliating mistake of offering an opinion about the couple's latest album: It's "mellow." Perhaps, he backtracks, he didn't word that quite properly.
Inevitably, there are lines that can't help but seem horribly ironic. "Do you feel safe in New York?" asks Burt. And Lennon declares, "While there's life, there's hope."
But the actors and their nimble director, James Veitch, don't linger over such intimations of mortality. They treat them almost as accidents that are bound to happen.
John Hartl: email@example.com
"(Just Like) Starting Over," by Steven Roseta, Tuesday-Sunday, Seattle Public Theater (Bathhouse on Greenlake), 7312 Green Lake Drive N.; $14-$24
(206-524-1300 or www.seattlepublictheater.org).