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Rollicking 'Love, Janis' Does More Than Push Those Boomer Buttons

Theater Review

July 15, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO--Early in "Love, Janis," now at San Diego Repertory Theatre, Janis Joplin explains why she decided to flee her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas: "I knew I wanted more than bowling alleys and drive-ins."

What she found in the San Francisco of the 1960s was a youthful world being transformed by a musical and cultural revolution, a world that gave her rebellious, artistic, insecure, to-hell-with-you, Southern Comfort-fueled personality room to breathe and to chase the acceptance she craved.

And before her death at age 27 in 1970 of a heroin/morphine overdose, the plain-faced girl with the stringy hair and hard-driving voice had become, as she tells us, "a Hells Angels pinup" and "the Barbra Streisand of the hippies."

"Love, Janis," takes us along for the whole bumpy, exhilarating ride from naive hick to tormented superstar. And what a ride it was!

Joplin's mannerisms and her mix of sweetness and vulgarity were captured to near perfection at Friday's performance by Kacee Clanton-Iniquez as the singing Janis and Aimee McCormick as the talking Janis.

Assembled largely from Joplin's letters to her family and from her numerous interviews--Joplin's sister Laura was co-creator along with playwright-director Randal Myler--"Love, Janis" is part tribute, part cautionary tale, part show-business profile.

In the end, the music sustained her when happiness off the stage proved impossible. "If it hadn't been for the music, I probably would have done myself in," she tells an unseen interviewer, adding with her own sarcastic laugh, "How's that for deep?"

For Joplin fans, "Love, Janis" is a must, a rockin' good time despite the bummer ending. For '60s nostalgics, it's a good bet. Whether the under-35 set can be engaged is another matter. The period costumes might be seen as clownish and off-putting. And the urgency and tumult of the era may fail to register against the gangsta-rap music and scandal-du-jour celebrity culture of today. A pity but true.

Clanton-Iniquez and Andra Mitrovich play the singing Janis (belting out 19 songs) on alternative nights. The program says that the demands of the role make it too difficult for one performer.

If playing Janis two hours a night is that taxing, imagine what the strain of being Janis 24 hours a day must have been like. That's what "Love, Janis" is all about.

*

"Love, Janis" plays at San Diego Repertory Theatre's Lyceum Stage at Horton Plaza through Aug. 18. Tuesday 7 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m., 7 p.m. Tickets: $31-$45. Box office: (619) 544-1000.

*

Andra Mitrovich and Kacee Clanton- Iniquez...Singing Janis

Aimee McCormick...Talking Janis

Mark C. Lawrence...Unseen Interviewer

Conceived, adapted and directed by Randal Myler, musical direction by Sam Andrew, production design by Trevor Norton, sound design by Tony Meola, costume design by Robert Blackman, projection designs by Bo Eriksson, stage manager Dana Schneider.

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