Stephen as Jim Morrison in The Lizard KingLos Angeles Times

‘The Lizard King’ Documents Jim Morrison’s Final Hours

By Ray Loynd

The music’s over for Jim Morrison. He’s bloated and boozy but still the dangerous poet, spilling his invective into a tape recorder between drinks and just before oblivion. It’s 1971, the last 36 hours of Morrison’s life in a Paris apartment shared with his longtime companion Pamela Courson and the ghosts of his incendiary stardom.

The American premiere of playwright Jay Jeffery Jones’ “The Lizard King” at Hollywood’s Friends and Artists Theatre cannot be compared to Oliver Stone’s “Doors” movie — the play is telescoped and downbeat whereas the movie is an epic-sized rock n’ roll celebration. But, interestingly for Doors and Morrison fans, an uncanny continuity connects Val Kilmer’s screen performance and Stephen Nichols’ stage-bound lizard king.

Needless to say, Nichols’ Morrison is a tougher act. He’s no sexual glamour boy. With Byron, Shelly and Keats, the myth of dying young was at least romantic. Here, the self-exiled Morrison and would-be writer is too burned out and drunk to sing, to make love, or face up to responsibilities. That’s not to say he can’t still lyricize.

This is not a musical (Martin Allen Davich’s original background score notwithstanding). It’s a horror story and a fascinating coda to the Morrison legend and a play buttressed by the playwright’s interviews with Morrison’s drinking buddy, the late porn actor Tom Baker (capably played by Clay Wilcox).

This American premiere of a drama that opened in London three years ago seems a catch for a small house like Friends and Artists. The narrow theater may have the hardest seats in town, but director Avner Garbi, a talented five-member cast, and artful design team led by set designer Robert W. Zentis lurch you into another world.

Let’s face it — the death of a rock star is not exactly fresh territory, especially a drama as assaultive as this one. But Nichols’ heavily bearded, black T-shirted figure and his stream-of-consciousness rantings are laced with humor and never boring. Nichols is an actor absorbed by his character. For example, the king’s sexual impotency, in the show’s most daring moment with raven-haired Kristina Starman as the overwrought lover Pamela, is risky but dramatically potent. It underscores the tone of decay and desperation.

Emblematic of the precise staging is a beautiful scene in which Morrison and his flustered manager Max (Matt Kirkwood) argue on one side of the stage while two women (Darcy Marta’s Edie Sedgewick character and Kristina Starman’s Pamela) sniff coke and wordlessly cuddle and giggle on the other side.

At the end, Morrison is going to get things back together. Maybe even move back to L.A. He and Pamela patch things up for the night. He’ll see her shortly. First he’s going to have a little drink and prepare a bath. He sits down by his tape deck and the house lights narrow to a single light on a revolving audio cassette.