By Edward Kliszus

NEW YORK – My Beatnik Youth: A Solo Riff

Justin Elizabeth Sayre is an extraordinary storyteller who used the support of powerful music and literature to accentuate and contextualize a personal sojourn into drugs, alcohol, a car accident, surviving an extended stay in a hospital mental ward, personal discovery, and, ultimately, hope.

Beatnik Era

The story began as World War II ended with the bombing of Hiroshima, heralding the Beatnik era. Youths rejected conventional values, bourgeoisie suburbs, societal norms, and materialism in favor of exploratory, non-conformist lifestyles.

Akin to Jack Kerouac’s music musing beat poetry, Sayre mobilized a jazz trio and lighting designs to energize a Beatnik spirit of adventure, freedom, and dissent.

Justin Elizabeth Sayre and Jazz Trio on stage in My Beatnik Youth: A Solo Riff. Photo by Bronwen Sharp

Justin Elizabeth Sayre and Jazz Trio on stage in My Beatnik Youth: A Solo Riff. Photo by Bronwen Sharp

Stream of Consciousness

Time inexorably marched forward in Sayre’s stream of consciousness. Through this paradigm, reoccurring musical flashbacks emerged, befitting poetic themes and ruminations about Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and more.

Seeking meaning and purpose, Sayre delved into the works and philosophical tenets of Jack Kerouac and his novel “On the Road,” and Allen Ginsberg with his poem “Howl.” Sayre also aligned literary references characterizing one’s life journey to musical artists from the Beat Generation, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker. Sayre also noted the tragic early demises of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and the blindness and pianistic genius of Art Tatum.

Existentialism and Nihilism

Sayre provided no direct link to Jean-Paul Sartre’s blend of existentialism and nihilistic rejection of intrinsic meaning, values, and morality imposed by society or religion. However, the work implicitly focused on human freedom, an absence of preordained significance, and the responsibility to forge one’s path and moral code.

Beat Poetry

Sayre’s performance was powerful and characterized by a sense of spontaneity and improvisation. Tonight’s stream-of-consciousness style bolstered a dynamic and immediate audience connection. It was an outpouring of personal struggles, joys, and spiritual quests into the reading, highlighting a Beat Poetry emphasis on authenticity and raw emotional expression. The rhythm of the music and language, combined with an exceptional voice, added layers of theatrical intensity to the reading.

The performance ended with Miles Davis’ song So What and Sayre’s affirmation of hope.

Justin Elizabeth Sayre in a scene from My Beatnik Youth: A Solo Riff. Photo by Bronwen Sharp

Justin Elizabeth Sayre in a scene from My Beatnik Youth: A Solo Riff. Photo by Bronwen Sharp

My Beatnik Youth: A Solo Riff

Written & Performed by Justin Elizabeth Sayre
Directed by Fempath
Karina Camile Parker: Associate Director
Bobby Moriarty: Producer
Light Design: Evan Spigelman
Musical Director/Piano: Tracy Stark
Matt Scharfglass: Bassist
Don Kelly: Drummer
Pre-Show Poet: Heather Johnson

Runtime: 90 minutes. Adult content.

The Club at La MaMa

74A East 4th Street
New York, NY 10003

Tickets can be found HERE.

Readers may also enjoy our reviews of My Mother Had Two FacesBefore the Drugs Kick InThe EffectDead OutlawJelly’s Last JamThe Maid and the Mezmerizer, and This is Not a Time of Peace.