It’s been 40 years since John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their 1969 Montreal bed-in, a peace protest that was celebrated for its optimism and mocked for its naivety.
It got huge press coverage worldwide, and Toronto playwright Risha Yorke’s new production, John/Yoko Bed Piece, explores how both today’s political left and right still fail to grasp Lennon and Ono’s subtle populism.
“Today you see liberal celebrities wooing politicians,” says Yorke by phone, “but a president can be replaced. His decisions can all be reversed by whoever comes after him. What John and Yoko did was reach millions of people through the media. That kind of influence is much more permanent.”
John and Yoko’s seven day bed-in at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel included visits from many of pivotal figures who visited the famous couple, including hippie guru Timothy Leary and conservative cartoonist Al Capp. In spite of the many political differences that John and Yoko’s guests may have had, they all objected to the Vietnam war. Yorke believes that the inclusiveness of the event was critical.
“Al Capp was a right wing peace activist coming from a radically different position,” says Yorke. “He wanted to believe in John and Yoko, but he (Capp) saw them as attempting something impossible. John and Yoko believed the way peace would finally work was with everyone on Earth being ready and willing to try.”
That’s a tall order, but doesn’t mean the bed-in was futile. This sincere public debate made peace a headline. In that way, the event was a success.
In order to evoke the zeitgeist surrounding the bed-in, the multidisciplinary production company draft 89 includes choreographed movement and a musical score by Graeme Porter, who stars as Lennon alongside Sharon Marquez as Ono. The stage should be fairly saturated with the spirit of 1969.
“I rely on my actors to do a lot of homework,” explains Yorke, who’s also directing this play. “I did over three years of my own research, and have been Facebooking with Yoko. The quest is to help people be able to say no to violence.
“John makes a really good comment,” recalls Yorke, “Ghandi did it right, he fought war with peace, but that was really frightening so they killed him.”
Yorke sees the Lennon-Ono bed-in as a sort of clue, made from celebrity and media, that will lead to a revolution of human consciousness that refuses violence altogether.
John/Yoko Bed Piece at The Toronto Centre for the Arts, Studio Theatre, tomorrow through Jan. 2, 2010.
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