The Beatles’ hit “When I’m 64” came out in 1967, the same year that Jim
Morrison recorded the most famous Doors hit, “Light my Fire.” Interestingly, had
he not died under mysterious circumstances in 1971 (at the age of 27), Jim
Morrison would be turning 64 this year.
Swimming to the Moon, a world premiere play by Gary Flaxman, imagines a
meeting (in a Paris hotel room) between a just dead Morrison (Damon Shalit)
and an angel/messenger named Al (Abner Genece), and various people who
lived (and died) during Morrison’s lifetime and who were influenced in some way
by him and/or by the turbulent times in which he became a rock superstar.
Besides the mountainous Al, there’s Jimi Hendrix, a female fan from West Virginia,
an African American woman from Detroit, a U.S. Senator, and a young
American GI. At stake is the divine decision whether or not Jim will be
“recycled,” which of the two upstage doors (hmmmm) he will exit through. “We’
re here to get to the root of you,” explains Al, and what follows is a kind of trial,
with the abovementioned characters as witnesses.
At first Jim refuses to believe that he’s dead. He tells Al, “I’m afraid you’ll bore
me to death,” to which Al replies, “That would be redundant.” Still, Jim avers
that he is still breathing, still able to sing (using a much imbibed from throughout
the show) bottle of Jack Daniels as a mike. Little by little, though, Jim begins to
take the proceedings more seriously.
He meets a slinky Jimi H. in checkered platform shoes (Russell Richardson, bearing
an uncanny resemblance to the rock star). Corryn Cummins is a gushing fan, a
coal miner’s daughter with flowered bellbottoms who “once listened to ‘Break
on Through’ 33 times” and tells Jim “You moved me out of my prison.” A young
black woman who was at the Detroit riots (Sarah Scott Davis) mourns her 4-year-
old son (beaten to death “by men gone mad”), and wonders to Jim, “I’m not
sure why they brought you here to meet you.” An elderly US Senator (Steven
Shaw) argues with Jim about good and evil. “Who exactly are the good guys?”
asks Jim, to which the Senator replied smugly, “We stand for good. The others for
evil. We are on the side of God.” Not so, replies the young soldier (Jake Bern)
killed in the Vietnam War. “Why wouldn’t you tell me what we were fighting
for?” he cries.
Swimming to the Moon gives some biographical details of Jim’s life: being born
the son of a US Admiral and Jim’s witnessing of a car accident in the desert as a
child, at which time he believed that a shaman had “entered” him. There’s also
a flashback to the 1969 Miami concert at which Jim was arrested and charged
with 1 felony and 3 misdemeanors (including inciting a riot and indecent
For the most part, however, Swimming to the Moon is not a Jim Morrison bio, but
rather existential look at his life and times. “You were given greatness,” says Al,
“and you wasted it for no reason other than that you could.”
The performances of the seven-member cast could not be better. Director Judy
Rose has clearly brought the best out of each of them, each actor fully
inhabiting his/her character to the point that one wonders if these are actors or
the very people they are portraying. Set, costumes, sound, and lighting design
are also first rate (especially the brightly lit pair of upstage doors), though in
these days when so many performers are comfortable with brief nudity, one
wonders at the coyness of the two blackouts when Jim enters and later rises
from the onstage bathtub in temporary darkness.
The audience’s interest in Swimming to the Moon will depend on their affinity for
lengthy existentialist discussions. Those preferring a more linear biography will be
less likely to respond to the production than those of a more philosophical bent.
Still, no one can quibble with the level of acting talent on stage at the Art/Works
Theater in Swimming to the Moon. There are seven fine performances up there.
Art/Works Performance Space, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
October 4, 2007