Kerouac and Google Maps: ON THE ROAD by GPS

“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead.” So begins that great American novel of wanderlust and the search for meaning, Jack Kerouac’s 1957 book On The Road.

Or, as Gregor Weichbrodt would have it. “Head northwest on W 7th St toward 7th Ave. Take the 1st left onto 7th Ave. Turn right onto W 39th St. Take the ramp onto Lincoln Tunnel. Parts of this road are closed Mon-Fri 4:00 – 7:00 pm. Entering New Jersey.” The student-age German poet took the locations to which Kerouac’s alter-ego Sal Paradise traveled and entered them into Google Maps. The result is ON THE ROAD FOR 17527 MILES, a 55-page instruction guide published in 2014 and now adapted to the stage by Michael Durkin and his 14th Street company.

Everyone who’s read On the Road has dreamed about retracing the path of Paradise and his memorable companion Dean Moriarty, but Weichbrodt’s work highlights the contradiction which doing so would entail: The essential thing about Kerouac’s journey was not the places he visited, but the spirit in which he traveled.

(l-r) Sam Sherburne, Martha Stuckey, Julius Ferraro, and Scott Rodrigue star in ON THE ROAD FOR 17527 MILES. Photo by Eric Preisendanz.
(l-r) Sam Sherburne, Danielle Solomon, Julius Ferraro, and Scott Rodrigue star in ON THE ROAD FOR 17527 MILES. Photo by Eric Preisendanz.

“If Kerouac had a GPS system, he would have probably felt less free.” Weichbrodt told The Guardian. “I find it rather discouraging to go on self-discovery with a bunch of route directions.”

In Durkin’s adaptation, four young adults (Julius Ferraro, Scott Rodrigue, Sam Sherburne, and Danielle Solomon) embark on a road trip across the country following Sal Paradise’s footsteps as faithfully as their GPS will take them. In doing so, the friends lose sight of their search for self and meaning. Durkin asks “whether the voyage to nirvana can be captured in the sum of its parts, and when the steps of traveling overwhelm the journey itself”.

Durkin is the artistic director of The Renegade Company, and the director and creator of The Hunchback of Notre Dame…A Mute Play, Bathtub Moby-Dick, and Glass: Shattered. He collaborates on this journey with electronic composer Adam Vidiksis and comic artist ddk/ikhoor. [Plays and Players Studio, 1714 Delancey Street] March 5-8, 2015; info.

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