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October 4, 2012

New Kerouac play premieres in Lowell

It sat, forgotten, in a New Jersey warehouse for nearly 50 years.

Now, Jack Kerouac’s nearly lost play is making its world premiere during a staged reading at Lowell’s Merrimack Repertory Theatre on Wednesday, October 10 as part of the Jack Kerouac Literary Festival. The play, titled “Beat Generation,” was rediscovered in 2005, and is being staged for the first time by Merrimack Repertory Theatre and UMass Lowell. The performances run through October 14.

“It’s really a literary moment in history,” says Charles Towers, artistic director of Merrimack Repertory Theatre, and the director of “Beat Generation” at MRT. “And it’s being done in his native city.”

“Beat Generation” is a story of friendship and karma set in the 1950s. Its characters and dialogue capture the Beat mentality at the roots of the American counterculture.

The play melds well with Kerouac’s other work. He’s one of Lowell’s most revered native sons, a writer whose works, like “On the Road” and “Dharma Bums,” became the voice of an entire generation in the 1950s and helped spark the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. His endurance as a pop-culture and literary icon seems to be unwavering 43 years after his death in 1969. And his confessional, hyper-realistic, stream-of-consciousness style continues to shape the work of artists, musicians, and writers.

“I think it’s a kind of emphasis on spontaneity and immediate realism; attempting to catch the immediacy of the moment through a very concrete and real-feeling language. At the same time there’s a romance of possibility and energy and youth,” says Michael Millner, associate professor of English and American studies at UMass Lowell, Director of the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for the Public Humanities, of Kerouac’s lasting influence. “Everyone from Katy Perry to independent label bands like The Hold Steady have been talking about Kerouac and writing songs about Kerouac.”

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