Off-Broadway Review: “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters

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  • David Roberts, Chief New York Critic

Writing a play about two iconic figures like Paul McCartney and John Lennon is risky business. Detailed information about their lives, their work, and their relationships are abundant and readily available. For a script about the famous pair to be engaging and relevant, the writing needs to include either new information or it needs to attempt to bring some new perspectives to the massive body of knowledge that has been previously explored in film, theatre, and documentaries.  Bob Stevens’s “Only Yesterday” currently running at 59E59 Theaters falls victim to taking such a risk.

“Only Yesterday” begins with the radio broadcast interview during which Sir John McCartney discusses his poem to John Lennon – “A Song for John.” Unfortunately, it is a full forty-five minutes into the seventy-minute play that the playwright begins to address the emotional conversation between McCartney and Lennon in their Key West hotel room, the conversation so significant McCartney later describes it as “an important emotional landmark.” Even in the final twenty-five minutes, the reenacting of this “talking” (as McCartney characterizes it) by actors Tommy Crawford (McCartney) and Christopher Sears (Lennon) is superficial and lifeless.

What of the first forty-five minutes? Bob Stevens chooses to spend far too much time on unpacking suitcases and guitars, deciding what song McCartney and Lennon might record (they are due to write songs for a new album and seem totally blocked), ordering food, watching television, and dealing with screaming fans including one stuck in the air vent in their hotel room. The actors play eight (8!) songs as possible covers for the new album and the pre-teen girl Shirley Knapp (Olivia Swayze) chatters on for far too long (inside the vent obviously) adding absolutely nothing to the advancement of the plot. A cover song is not chosen, and Olivia is dragged away by a security officer with the promise of receiving a “confirmation letter” via mail from John attesting to her “vent visit” with her favorite Beatles.

“Only Yesterday” is Bob Stevens’s first play. Prior work has focused on producing, writing, and consulting for television sitcoms. His lack of experience is evident here. It is difficult for Mr. Crawford and Mr. Sears to tackle this anemic script with any chance of overcoming its myriad deficiencies. And director Carol Dunne is not able to move her cast around with any convincing authenticity. Sadly, “Only Yesterday” seems like a community theatre production gone terribly wrong. Even the unnamed Road Manager’s (Christopher Flockton) comedic interludes (calling Paul and John “bloody tossers”) cannot rescue the overall effort.

Why the playwright chooses to highlight an important moment in Beatles lore and then fails to deliver is a mystery. Hopefully, the playwright, director, and creative team will re-evaluate “Only Yesterday” carefully before producing it in the future. The concept is good; the execution is disappointing.

 

ONLY YESTERDAY

The cast features Tommy Crawford as Paul McCartney and Christopher Sears as John Lennon with Christopher Flockton and Olivia Swayze.

The design team includes Michael Ganio (set designer); Allison Crutchfield (costume designer); Dan Kotlowitz (lighting and projections designer); and Jane Shaw (sound designer). The Production Stage Manager is Danielle Zandri.

“Only Yesterday” runs at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) through Sunday September 29, 2019 on the following performance schedule” Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Single tickets are $25.00 - $35.00 ($26.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call the 59E59 Box Office at 646-892-7999 or

visit http://www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes with no intermission.

Photo (L-R): Tommy Crawford and Christopher Sears in “Only Yesterday” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.