Make no mistake, Jim Morrison fans — this play bears little resemblance to Oliver Stone’s cinematic celebration of the Doors rock groups. Appropriately titled The Lizard King, Jay Jeffery Jones’ drama, under the taut direction of Avner Garbi, indeed exhibits a hardened exterior and an elusive presence. Yet while it is assaultive and off-putting at times, there is enough insight and human compassion included to make up for its excessive alienation.
The action chronicalizes Morrison after his glory days: Morrison the burned-out superstar, Morrison the American self-exiled in Paris. He is bearded and overweight, sarcastic and embittered. His gnawing doubts over the purpose and effects of his music career — along with years of alcohol and chemical abuse – have taken their toll, reducing him to a demanding, deluded would-be writer.
“Hello, assholes . . .” is how Jim, portrayed by Stephen Nichols begins an audio taping session addressing topics ranging from political prose to convoluted poetry. He finds fault with his present state, blaming it on everything from his “mundane Navy brat angst” to the entertainment industry which left him with a “fame and fortune tumor.” Whatever the case, Jim continues spewing his “Theatre of Pain in the Ass” to his unseen audience, much to the chagrin of his longtime companion, Pam (Kristina Starman).
A few ghosts still float around to influence the misguided artist. Tom Baker (Clay Wilcox), a small-time actor who became Morrison’s best friend, still haunts Jim’s memories with conversations from their drinking days. Jim and Pam’s solitude is also interrupted by actual visitors Max (Mat Kirkwood) and Miami (Darcy Marta), fictional collages of their contacts with the record industry and underground artist groupies.
Jones’ script begins with an unhealthy dose of Morrison’s heavy-handed imagery, but thankfully breaks on through to the other side, the humanistic side of the lost boy crowned rock king. Partially based on interviews with Tom Baker himself, Jones has painted a faithful stark, albeit unsympathetic portrait.
Nichols has a startling presence as the declining rock icon, boldly allowing Morrison’s disappointments and disillusion to play on his sanity. As his lover Pam, Starman instills a noble streak of strength and compassion into her incandescent performance.
Avner Garbi directs with a strong visual sense, eerily recreating the time and place perfectly, and diffusing the tension at times with some comic insight. Technically, the play is proficient: Robert W. Zentis’ imaginatively-lit Paris pad, Lisa Thompson’s period costumes, Martin Allen Davich’s sound, Sugano’s hair and Leland Crawford’s beard designs.
Perhaps Jim Morrison the poet is best represented (and remembered) by his songs with the Doors. The Lizard King reminds us that, while rock and roll may never die, it does have its victims.
– Elias Stimac