The Confessions of Doc Holliday
Also see Sharon's review of M. Butterfly
The character of Doc Holliday has "one-man show" written all over him. Educated and possessed of a unique eloquence, Holliday was the sort of killer who fascinates. Not a cold-blooded murderer who got off on the joy of the kill, Holliday instead killed only those he felt were deserving. He's the sort of killer who we like to think we might actually have liked - or, at least, liked to have known. And so, the idea of getting to know him through a theatrical adaptation is extremely appealing.
Darrell Larson's one-man show, The Confessions of Doc Holliday, adapted from Bruce Olds's novel Bucking the Tiger, introduces us to Holliday at the end of his life, as he writes a death-bed letter to a cousin. The dialogue is frequently spiced with those delightfully arch aphorisms or turns of phrase of the type we like to associate with Holliday. Thus, he begins his monologue with the apt, "There is no one more self-obsessed than a dying man"; he describes his theory of drinking as "a matter of going to pieces without losing track of the parts"; and when something frustrated him it "genuinely rankled my rhubarb."
While the surface of the monologue occasionally sparkles with these smile-inducing little gems, the substance is something rather darker entirely. The "confession" at the center of the play touches on Holliday's drinking and gambling, but is largely about killing. And while a good deal of the play simply recounts Holliday's exploits, what the play is really about is why Holliday might have become the man he did, and the psychological toll the acts must have taken on him - beneath his unconcerned air. The script believes the true motivator in Holliday's life was his early diagnosis of consumption; when a man is told (erroneously, as it turns out) that he has only six months to live, his philosophy of life and death is irrevocably changed. The Confessions of Doc Holliday tries to journey into Holliday's psyche and understand how his belief in the imminence of his own death made him such a dangerous man at the O.K. Corral.
However promising the premise, the world premiere production of this play, as presented at the Met Theatre in Hollywood, is simply not ready yet. The great bulk of the show surrounds Holliday writing the letter to his cousin - or, more precisely, reading it over. For the most part, the audience is watching Larson as Holliday proofreading the letter he has already written. While there are a few moments when he takes up a pen to change a word, or smiles in self-satisfaction at a lovely bit of alliteration he's written, the concept of reading back a letter already written is largely devoid of dramatic possibilities. How much more interesting it would have been if Larson had Holliday writing the letter for the first time - actually coming up with these ideas and sharing them with the audience as he's thinking them, rather than simply giving them an out loud once-over.
When Holliday reaches the point of retelling the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Larson actually puts the paper down and comes downstage for a more intimate review of the tale. But here, the language of the script changes. Holliday speaks in the third-person as a detached narrator. He tells the story in a blow-by-blow, turn-by-turn, moment-by-moment fashion that could only be described as clinical. There is clearly a significance to this change in language - there's a reason that Holliday, even at the very end of his life, chooses to distance himself and present a cold retelling of the facts. But, because Larson's script has kept Holliday from truly connecting with the audience in the other portions of the play, the importance of Holliday's change in tone for this story is largely muted.
To be fair, it's possible that Larson has Holliday re-reading the letter rather than delivering the lines directly to the audience because he has not yet mastered the lengthy script. But, with the words of the script not yet under control, Larson has no hope of delivering the psychological portrait of Holliday his adaptation aims for. As a world premiere production, The Confessions of Doc Holliday isn't yet ready for the stage. Considered as a workshop-style partially-staged reading of a new script, it has potential.
The Confessions of Doc Holliday runs through June 27, 2004 at the Met Theatre in Hollywood. For reservations, call (323) 957-1152.
The Met Theatre presents The Confessions of Doc Holliday from the novel Bucking the Tiger by Bruce Olds, adapted and performed by Darrell Larson. Stage Manager Adam Briggs; Lights Kate Bethell; Sidekick David Acosta.