Lover. Muse. Mockingbird. Whore.
Text by Charles Bukowski
Adapted, choreographed and directed by Austin McCormick
More than most uber-masculine modern artists—with the possible exception of Picasso—Charles Bukowski
's output drew extensively from his similarly prolific womanizing. His exchanges with women fill much of his autobiographic poetry and prose, portraying a version of femininity at times even more monstrous than Picasso's "Les demoiselles d'Avignon
." Bukowski's women populate Company XIV
's Lover. Muse. Mockingbird. Whore.
(through May 8), but as the title and the casting of Laura Careless as every participant in the parade of paramours suggest, each of these figures reveals more about the author than about the real women upon whom they're allegedly based.
For Bukowski people are a low, grotesque bunch, a characterization well suited to director-choreographer Austin McCormick's burlesque-influenced aesthetic. The tall, bearded, Bud-swilling Jeff Takacs plays our Bukowski proxy, narrating Careless's transformations. He recites fragments of poems and novels into microphones and video cameras placed around the set, while Careless dons a series of costumes, wigs and mannerisms—she speaks only a few lines of dialogue but repeatedly snatches the mic to laugh hysterically. Words are the author's source of power, and she evades his grasp by resorting to non-linguistic speech. Bukowski met half the evening's eight or so women at bars, at a race track or—in the passage that best captures the author's dark, weirdly humanist humor—on the streets of Los Angeles. The rest are short-term girlfriends and muses with actual names, and in these sections the choreography is less manic, the costumes nominally less revealing.
Company XIV's productions tend toward lavishly stylized period pieces and fairy tales
, but a subject so proudly seedy presents interesting challenges. Zane Pihlstrom's sparse set design acknowledges this poverty by lining the theater walls with bits of past backdrops and large antique spotlights like a theater's messy backstage. Each panel becomes a screen for video projections; lights rise in turn to cast Careless's characters in dramatic glows. A white neon rectangle marks the feminized space at center stage, while Bukowski inhabits a small apartment to the left. Inventive staging, absolutely exquisite lighting and video projections (by Gina Scherr and Jamie Nesbitt, respectively) amplify Takacs's excellent readings—"In the dim smoky light," he recites, in time to his co-star's movements, "the long hair looked better than it was, the legs more shapely, the conversation not as bare, not as vicious." The production design lends the texts a noir tinge in keeping with Bukowski's final novel, Pulp
. McCormick's choreography occasionally becomes repetitive (despite Careless's committed performance), and the excellent ending follows a drawn-out final chapter, but those flaws do little to detract from Lover
's arresting portrayal of the author and his women.
(photo: Steven Schreiber)