Reviewed by Guy Picot
John Gonzales is a gifted story-teller who has written a collection of short stories about his unconventional childhood. There’s a rogue’s gallery of colorful characters who twelve-year-olds don’t usually get to meet, courtesy of his single mother’s drug habit and the hedonism of the time (1981) and place (West Hollywood). Young Johnny grows up fast and his mother’s lifestyle exposes him to people and situations that make for good anecdotes, particularly when nearly forty years have passed and nostalgia can sweeten the memories.
As a prologue, black-and-white photos of Hollywood in the early eighties are projected to the backing of a Tom Waits track. It seems long ago and far away.
Gonzales recites the tales well, though more in the manner of an audio-book than a theatrical offering. The text is on a music-stand and he uses a stand-mic throughout so there is little opportunity for movement. Well-chosen music of the era underscores some sections but too often ends up in competition with the words, so neither element is served well. Some lighting and sound effects are welcome but don’t quite add up to a show.
What Johnny ’81 might lack in spectacle, it makes up for in authenticity, and the fact that the boy in the stories became the wordsmith who is telling them is something of an inspiration. 90 minutes is long for such a relentlessly static piece but the small audience I was part of was attentive and appreciative.
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