The late, great Janis Joplin sang with reckless abandon. And it's that quality that makes Livin' Janis, Dorian Rush's tribute to the rock idol, so compelling. Rush wrote and stars in the piece, capturing Joplin's irresistible if doomed allure.
The play begins with two of Joplin's musicians waiting on stage, irritated Joplin is late yet again. A third musician arrives to announce he discovered her dead body in her motel room. She overdosed, losing a long battle against drugs and alcohol. But Joplin then walks jauntily on stage and performs many of her hits, intermittently and often humorously filling in bits and pieces of her personal life and rise to stardom.
Joplin was born in 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas, and went to church every Sunday, where she sang in the choir and was accosted by choir boys. She spent the greater part of her youth, which is to say the greater part of her 27 years, in such poverty that friends had to take up a collection so she could afford bus fare back to Port Arthur when she wanted to go home. Her life in San Francisco, where she became addicted to heroin and speed, was equally hard.
Livin' Janis is a simple, straightforward presentation. The band (Michael Sollars on drums, Bill Davis on guitar and Brian Broussard on bass) is extraordinary, and the amplification is at a moderated level that doesn't override the drama.
The keystone in this theatrical arch, however, is Rush, who sings with the raw sincerity of the original. She takes occasional hits from her trademark bottle of Southern Comfort but merely refers to drug use with an ironic defiance. In addition to substances, she was addicted to sex, with great indifference to being with men, women or groups, or so the play says.
Ironically, Pearl, her best-selling album, and "Me and Bobby McGee," her best-selling single, were both released shortly after her death.
A resounding bravo to Rush and her band for bringing this tragic heroine to exuberant life. Don't miss Livin' Janis when it returns to Le Chat Noir Nov. 27 through 29. — Dalt Wonk