Paul Clayton Worthington, born March 3, 1931, was an American folksinger who lived through and contributed to the revival of folk music in the 1950’s. Releasing over ten records in the 1950’s alone, Clayton was very well connected within the folk community, and played and recorded with many musicians who later rose to fame. Unfortunately for Paul, fame really never struck him as much as it did some of his counterparts, the most notable one being Bob Dylan. Clayton and Dylan first met in the Greenwich Village in 1961, and for years traveled and played together, as Dylan very quickly became a household name.
The story of Search: Paul Clayton is an unusual one, but it is certainly worth telling. Narrated by Clayton and Dylan, Search is half autobiography, half biography. Written by Larry Mollin and directed by Randal Myler, this musical play is quite literally presented as if the audience is watching an interactive Wikipedia page. However, other than the reference to “Search” in the title of the show, little is done to develop this idea of the production as a Wikipedia page, and it seems an unnecessary addition to the script: by the end the whole idea seems to wash away as an afterthought, adding very little to the overall theme and significance to the message of the story. The only real value this concept adds to the production is that it keeps the story chronological.
Clayton and Dylan are played by Peter Oyloe and Jared Weiss, respectively, and the two have great onstage chemistry. Oyloe’s Clayton is a still, thoughtful, creative man; a man who felt misunderstood and spun out of control. Slowly, Oyloe turns the once motivated artist to a man with deep resentment, shame, and fear. This is in stark contrast to Weiss’ Dylan, a sinewy and charming portrayal of the famed singer. Oyloe and Weiss banter on stage like old friends, but the real connective tissue here is the music. Both actors are excellent musicians, who play classic folk and blues songs with skillful and soulful execution.
The music direction by Fred Mollins is where this show really shines. Not so much a lesson in Dylan’s music, Search is a crash course in lesser known but timeless folk and blues songs. The show is full of energetic live acoustic arrangements of songs written by artists Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie, Paul Clayton, and more. Some original music is featured as well, including “Talkin’ Bob Dylan cross country blues,” a time-lapse road trip of a song which channels the signature Dylan talk-sing he was known for. The cast is full of talented actor/musicians, and each ensemble member has at least one memorable solo—a personal favorite being Dave Van Ronk’s haunting rendition of “House of the Rising Sun.”
Though the story of Paul Clayton is one of a man with deep mortal flaws, the perplexing decision to “wikify” the show keeps the emotional depth at arm’s length. Despite this, there is no denying that the show will feel sentimental for many, and any flaws in the show are hidden behind the inspiring and exciting performances from its cast.
Search: Paul Clayton (May 6 – 21, 2015)
Dan Whitten & Tiger Theatricals
The Triad Theatre, 158 West 72nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission