Junkie writers—or at least those who write openly about being junkies—tend to share a particular sense of humor. Early William S. Burroughs, Lou Reed, Denis Johnson, and the others often tell their harrowing stories with a flatness, a deadpan way of revealing details that puts the mundane (the color of a car's upholstery, for example) on the same emotional plane as the extraordinary (the man bleeding to death in the backseat). That staunch refusal to let any fact or emotion rise above any other, that calm insensitivity, creates an unnerving kind of comedy.
For the most part, Book-It's stage adaptation of Jesus' Son—Johnson's 1992 collection of quasi-autobiographical fragments—hits that chord precisely. In one scene, our scruffy narrator Fuckhead (Scott Ward Abernethy) and his big lug of a pal Georgie (Zach Adair) are working the night shift in an emergency room. They sort files, mop floors, and eat all the pills they can steal. Early one morning, a guy with a knife sticking out of his eye (Kevin McKeon) strolls in. The doctors and nurses are aghast, but the druggies and the patient are incongruously mellow. "We'd better get you lying down!" one of the nurses exclaims. "Okay," the man sighs, "I'm certainly ready for something like that."
The eight-person cast, directed by Josh Aaseng, plays this sad parade of losers with glimmers of human decency, if faint ones, in their criminally negligent hearts. Though Jesus' Son occasionally succumbs to overeager theatricality—with a few colorful descriptions delivered in that overemphatic slam-poetry way that sometimes happens when actors speak prose—it mostly does right by Johnson's short, plainspoken, and difficult cult classic.