Jack and David: On the Road (Canal Street) Together

January 24, 2020

Did you get to experience David McElroy’s A Christmas Carol? I stand in awe of his ability to represent 37 characters and make the audience differentiate between them. Spellbound, we were!

For those of you who saw the one man show, A Christmas Carol, at The Hub on Canal in December, you’ll be delighted to know that you will have the opportunity for another mesmerizing performance by David McElroy on Feb 9. For those of you who missed the show, you’re in luck! You have the good fortune to catch him in another one-man play, End of the Road-an Evening with Jack Kerouac, written by Steve A Rowell and the actor. 

Jack Kerouac, credited with naming the “Beat Generation” and author of the iconic On the Road, was a fascinating, influential and tragic man. This play is based on the moments that he spent in the Green Room before being interviewed by William F. Buckley on Firing Line, his last television appearance before his death a few months later. (Buckley actually stopped the show, berated him for being drunk, and then went ahead with the interview, which you can view on YouTube.) Kerouac was an alcoholic and died at the age of 47. 

A chain of events led to the production of this play. David McElroy was doing A Christmas Carol (coming up on its 23rd year) at a now-closed restaurant called Chapters in Winter Park. The owner of the restaurant, Marty Cummins, was also a board member of the Kerouac House. After seeing (and being dazzled by, I’m sure) McElroy’s performance, he suggested that a play should be written about Kerouac. Steve Rowell, a friend of the actor, heard Cummins, and said, “I’ll write it with you.” This was McElroy’s introduction to Kerouac’s writing…and Kerouac became his favorite author, along with Oscar Wilde.

Kerouac pose with chair

The show has seen more than eight productions, including the Orlando Fringe Festival (which is a fabulous festival that must be experienced to understand why I can’t describe it adequately in this space). A recording of part of the play was aired on WMFE at the Kerouac House (which is where the photo of McElroy in Kerouac’s chair was taken).

McElroy says that he was always interested in writing, beginning with poetry in high school and adding plays in college. As a junior in high school, he performed a poem called The Mountain Whippoorwill by Stephen Vincent Benet, and his teacher asked him to be in the school play. When he heard the applause, he was “hooked,” he said. He credits his English teacher, Mrs. Wiser, with encouraging both creative endeavors.

He attended high school and college in Oklahoma City and got his master’s degree at the University of Arkansas. It wasn’t until college that he began writing plays—the first was produced in 1980. His A Christmas Carol is the favorite of all his creations, although The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde is his favorite play (in which he has been in two productions). His favorite book is Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maughan. Obviously, McElroy is an intellectual and has a deep respect for the classics, which is why his answer to my question about his favorite movie surprised and tickled me. Animal House was his response—which is certainly a classic in its field—and I still recollect certain scenes and laugh aloud. However, I think I was expecting something more esoteric.

Kerouac, too, was an intellectual. His On the Road influenced an entire generation when it was first published in 1957, and that only happened with a streak of luck. The reviewer for The New York Times was out, and the substitute reviewer raved about On the Road: “The most beautifully executed, the clearest and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.” When the regular reviewer returned, he was livid. He hated the book and the substitute was never allowed to review again. More than 60 years later, Kerouac’s influence continues.

When I asked McElroy what he liked most about doing his rendition of the book, he responded, “Feeling the ‘beat’ of the words we have written.” I can’t wait to hear and feel the words and the beat of this production.

Written by Donna Bradley