Just A Little Bit Harder (Performing the Passion of Janis Joplin) | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Just A Little Bit Harder (Performing the Passion of Janis Joplin)


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Stage Left Theatre.

The press release calls it a "passion play," but there's not much of a play here, and precious little passion--and passion is what Janis Joplin was all about. Though it has some intriguing ideas--the late rock singer is played by five actors (three women and two men) who try to suggest rather than impersonate their subject--this bland theater piece rarely achieves its potential. Sometimes evoking episodes from Joplin's brief, blazing existence (including five different versions of her fatal heroin overdose), the play more often comes off as a whiny, self-congratulatory "what Janis means to me" pageant.

Trying to offer a 90s take on a 60s phenomenon, director Beatrice Bosco (who conceived the work) and playwright Jimmie Cumbie gloss over how Joplin was influenced by the fiery politics of her time and by a circle of friends who helped transform her from small-town loner to hippie superstar. Also notably absent is Joplin's music, the rights for which are controlled by a sister who's working on a revue honoring Janis. Joachim J.B. Skye's original songs, played by a competent but unexceptional three-piece band, are merely a workmanlike substitute for Joplin's recordings. And a spoof of Joplin's friend Jimi Hendrix, in which a symphonic string bassist plays a Woodstock-like "Star-Spangled Banner" with Hendrix's riffs but none of his feeling, suggests that even if they could have performed Joplin's music, the company wouldn't have known what to do with it. One brief clip from Monterey Pop comes closer to "performing the passion of Janis Joplin" than two hours of this tedious play.

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