Only Yesterday: Beatles as Motherless Boys

A story recently posted on Facebook tells of a young dogwalker in New York City. An "old man" passed her on the street and asked if he could pet one of the dogs. As he cupped his hand over the animal's head, a small crowd of "old women" gathered at a respectful distance, eyes riveted. The dogwalker was uncomprehending; the women understood. The "old man" was Paul McCartney.

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Only Yesterday. Was it not? The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show three Sundays running, young men with long hair and collarless suits, the first wave of the British Invasion. If you lived it then, you know how the dogwalker sees you; take heart that the internationally famous and iconic McCartney has grown old along with you. But Only Yesterday is not about today. It's about that past era, the one of your youth that on some days you think you have never left.

It's 1964 at Northern Stage. Bob Stevens' (The Wonder Years, Murphy Brown) play is set at the height of Beatlemania. In the midst of their first American tour, Hurricane Dora strands the Beatles in Key West, where John Lennon and Paul McCartney are forced to share a shabby hotel room. As their road manager (Christopher Flockton) busies himself, the hotel door opens from time to time, at first to the sound of the hurricane raging, and later to the storm of women--screaming and trying to battle their way past security. The two young musicians fight their boredom with drink and conversation.

It is difficult for actors to portray famous people whose images are burned into the brains of a generation. Christopher Sears as Lennon and Tommy Crawford as McCartney manage to carry it off with the help of those haircuts and skinny suits. Sears has more to work with, capturing Lennon's anger and humor and the meter of his voice. Crawford's McCartney is of a sunnier, more superficial Beatle who exhibits McCartney’s gestures as he sings--that head wobble, the tapping foot that shimmies an entire leg. 

The first part of the play is a meditation on youthful mega-fame and its costs. While McCartney describes the screaming crowds as "bloody brilliant," and there is some good-natured banter with fans (including pitch-perfect Olivia Swayze), it isn't much of a surprise when Lennon yanks the hotel phone from the wall and moans 'I'm sick of the whole fucking lot." 32 shows in 24 cities in 33 days is exhausting. Carol Dunne, the show's director, has commented that (like the portrayal of Martin Luther King in The Mountaintop), Only Yesterday reveals the human side--the impatient disagreements, the silly vanities--of mythic figures. You can sense the claustrophobia of the twin-bedded hotel room and imagine that McCartney and Lennon must sometimes have felt like hunted prey.

A quiet drama suffuses the plays's later scenes when the two speak about their early intertwined lives and their mothers' deaths. Their revelations are restrained in the way of 1960s men from gritty Liverpool. Or as they see themselves, "just two motherless boys trying to get on with it." From their petty squabbles and itchy boredom arises their ache over the loss of Mary and Julia, and it's a hammer to the heart.

This world premiere of Only Yesterday has a short run through February 18 and tickets are selling fast. Get yours by clicking here.

(Photos by Rob Strong)


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