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After a 20-year hiatus from the theater, Jesse Rabinowitz returns to the stage with "Cry Out," a tribute to poet Allen Ginsberg.

The Beat Goes On

Jesse Rabinowitz hasn't been involved with the theatre in 20 years. After graduating from the State University of New York at Binghamton with bachelor's degrees in both theatre and psychology, Rabinowitz went on to pursue the psychology side of his education, eventually earning a doctorate. But this week, the 42-year-old clinical psychologist will star in a one-man show that he also authored, "Cry Out," based on the life and works of beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

As a young graduate, Rabinowitz had "decided theatre was not something I was going to be in," he says. "The 97 percent unemployment rate had something to do with it."

But he missed the theatre and for the past few years has seriously considered getting involved again, although the timing was never right. "I work a couple of nights a week doing therapy," he says. "Between that and my family, I didn't feel I had the time."

In 1997, when Ginsberg, the revolutionary and radical poet who impacted American society in the'60s, died, Rabinowitz's interest in him was renewed.

"I started reading him in college as a lot of people do," he says. "After he died, I started reading more of him." Even before Ginsberg's death, Rabinowitz says he was personally becoming more socially and politically active, but rereading Ginsberg inspired him.

"Ginsberg represents a generosity of heart in America that I think was very important and was part of a stream of things that gave rise to the social movements of the '60s," he says. "I started thinking it would be nice to do a piece. … It started growing."

Eventually, Rabinowitz's tribute to Ginsberg evolved into "Cry Out," a narrative of Ginsberg's life that incorporates some of his works as well. He finished the script about six months ago, after working on it for more than two years. "It was a great deal of pleasure creating the thing," he says. "Once I had enough of a script, I started passing it around."

Steve Forth, founder of Shard Live Performance Collective, received a copy of the script from a mutual friend. It sat on his desk for a few months before he had a chance to look at it. Rabinowitz started to think no one was interested when Forth finally called.

"It was neat material," Forth says of the work. "It was pretty skillful writing, especially for a first-time writer."

The two have been working together since mid-June, with Forth directing and producing the show. Rabinowitz wasn't fazed that his director wasn't too familiar with Ginsberg's life or works when they started collaborating. Part of the purpose of writing the play was to introduce Ginsberg to a new generation.

"I have no reason to write something about something people have already seen," Rabinowitz says. "This was meant to be an awakening for people."

Although Rabinowitz doesn't need to worry about flubbing his lines — he won't offend the author after all — he is getting more nervous as opening night approaches.

"I have been surprised at the level of my anxiety, which comes and goes," he says. "Sometimes I think, 'God, What have I gotten myself into?' There's a fair amount of terror. Other times, I'm enjoying the play and enjoying Ginsberg, which is what I set out to do."

Rabinowitz says Ginsberg's life was so fascinating he didn't need to take any creative liberties to spice up the script. Moreover, in trying to be as authentic as possible, Rabinowitz took his preparation one step further than most actors might have: "I went and I got my head shaved," he says. "… The way I look right now is fairly close to [how Ginsberg looked at the same age]. I don't have a lot of ego. It helps to be able to look in the mirror and look a little like him in terms of getting into character."

"Cry Out" plays at Fieldens Cabaret Theater, 2033 W. Broad St., July 20-29, with previews July 18 and 19. Tickets are $8, $6 students. For tickets & information, call 306-8600.

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