Although his books are full of sex and the gleeful detachment that would later come to characterize autobiographical authors such as Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson, it's Henry Miller's personal struggle to free himself from a banal workaday existence, and his keen observations on how society can destroy the creative soul of a man, that makes up the real meat of Tropic of Capricorn. This is the side of Miller that local actor/playwright William J. Whaley brings to life in Struggling to Stand, a one-man theater adaptation of the novel that he developed while "living in New York City and reading what Henry was writing about New York in the '20s, and looking around and seeing how things haven't changed."
Reading Miller is like listening to a crackpot rhapsodizing endlessly on the street; if you listen long enough, his rantings begin to make sense. This is how Whaley portrays him. With a spare set, Miller's words, and a few deft gestures, Whaley vividly depicts 1920s New York as Miller saw it -- teeming with money and prosperity, but also filled with creeping desperation and eruptions of random violence. Whaley first produced Struggling to Stand off-Broadway in New York, then brought it to the Grasshopper Palace last August. One of the problems with staging Miller is his narrative style; there are a million starting points in his books, but few solid endings -- he doesn't so much finish a story as pause for breath -- which makes transitions awkward. Despite a few overdone moments, Whaley does an excellent job wedding movement to the music of Miller's words, with the bass of Damon Smith (or Nick Kiriaze) providing all the additional color needed. The show plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. (through Aug. 30) at the Edinburgh Castle Pub, 950 Geary (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $7-12; call 346-8114.
-- David Cook