Only Yesterday opens with a voice recording of Paul McCartney, in an interview presumably recorded after John Lennon’s death. In the interview, he describes one dark, stormy night when he and John bonded. Early in the days of Beatlemania, on one of the band’s first worldwide tours, a hurricane forced the band into a dingy motel in Key West. Paul and John shared a room. Trapped there overnight, the two got a rare respite from their increasingly mad lives. That night they jammed, drank, and talked.
It’s an obvious premise for a play–if maybe a little too obvious. Paul’s interview lays out the beats for a playwright very neatly: Paul and John will talk around their feelings for a time, singing and drinking to distract themselves, before finally arriving at a shared realization that deepens their bond.
Playwright Bob Stevens follows those beats exactly, without an attempt at subversion, yet there is an undeniable pleasure in the play’s predictability. I felt only warm affection for Paul and John as the two slowly put together, a good half hour after the audience, how the loss of their mothers has shaped both their music and their identities.
It helps that all of this is true. The parallel between the two young stars’ tragic losses are striking. Processing grief amidst the mad spectacle of Beatlemania is an insane prospect, and relatable–if on an exaggerated scale–for anyone who has been on that journey.
The two lead performers are also a huge help. Christopher Sears has impressed me off-Broadway many times (London Wall, The Harvest) and continues to dazzle here, projecting the confusion under John’s bravado without over-signaling. Tommy Crawford is a weaker singer and his accent wavers, but his gentleness hits a nice contrast with Sears’ louder John.
One scene depicting a young female fan speaking to Paul and John through an air vent seems misguided. Stevens doesn’t acknowledge the unsettling side of an underage fan placing herself at her idols’ mercy. Instead, he seems to suggest that since Paul and John are nice lads, it’s all perfectly fine. The obsessive, sometimes deranged nature of this moment in the Beatles’ celebrity deserves a more nuanced approach than the scene provides.
Stevens also hits the nail on the head far too dramatically at the play’s close. Paul and John literally spell out their “dead mother bond” for us, long after we got it. Here, the writing gets more basic and you become conscious of just how simplistic the play really is.
Yet, when the recording of Paul returns at the end, tying things up for us in a neat bow, it’s hard not to be moved. It’s startling to remember that before their insane journey began, these were just two scared, damaged boys, trying desperately not to lose themselves in the madness.