Talkin’ Broadway: Ears on a Beatle

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Michael Kaye and Steven Barkhimer

Sometimes, plays come along at exactly the right time to strike a resonance with current events, adding an extra layer of meaning to the lives of the characters portrayed on stage. Other plays feel as though the author started with the question “How can I write about situation x?” and never quite come to life beyond their topicality. Unfortunately, Mark St. Germain’s Ears on a Beatle, now enjoying its Boston premiere at the Lyric Stage, falls into the latter category.

The one-act play focuses on two FBI agents, veteran Howard Ballantine (Steven Barkhimer) and newcomer Daniel McClure (Michael Kaye), assigned to keep tabs on John Lennon in the 1970s. Although based in fact – the actual FBI files on Lennon are reproduced both in the lobby and the program book to drive this home – the story of the two agents is entirely St. Germain’s creation, and it shows. The entire first half of the play feels like a series of sketches from a beginners’ playwriting class on exposition. Each scene quickly reveals necessary information about Ballantine’s background or McClure’s increasing entanglements with the people he’s supposedly studying, before moving on to the next scene and the next plot point. One of the simplest rules of writing for the theatre is “show, don’t tell,” yet most of the first half of the play consists of the characters telling each other about things that happened between scenes with other characters we never meet. Still, director Paula Ramsdell keeps the proceedings light, making the most of Barkhimer’s comic timing and deadpan delivery to divert our attention from the plodding plotting.  Continue reading