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Days of Future Pissed
Men who forget to shave for days and women whose cheap lipstick is always smeared are the kind of people David Mogentale and Tim Corcoran have scrutinized since they helped establish the 29th Street Rep. So it was probably only a matter of time before the two got around to Charles Bukowski, who specialized in characters who’ve lost their way on the wrong side of the tracks. As the California author-dropout has his fictional double confide in a piece called “Guts”: “I like desperate men, men with broken teeth and broken minds. . . . I also like vile women, drunk, cursing bitches with loose stockings.”
Bukowski didn’t leave any plays behind when he died in 1994, but in South of No North (Stories of the Buried Life), he wrote tales so dialogue heavy they read like meaty one-acts. Easy, then, for Leo Farley and Jonathan Powers to take Bukowski’s title and solidly reconfigure the four- and five-page works as story theater—or, more precisely, dirty-story theater. In nine trenchantly depicted scenes, Bukowski (a dipso-y Stephen Payne) narrates the gritty disappointment and grimy humor of society’s discards.
Like Graham Greene, Bukowski divided his tales into two categories—in his case, serious (unhappy ending) and comic (less unhappy ending). What they have in common is punch. Sometimes literally, since in one playlet, “A Man,” George knocks his ex-girlfriend about the room, and in another, “Love for $17.50,” Robert brings a mannequin home and slaps it silly after he’s made love to it. As the action springs from Bukowski’s heated brain, Payne portrays a writer desperately at work. In addition to Payne, actors Elizabeth Elkins, Moira MacDonald, Paula Ewin, Gordon Holmes, Charles Willey, and Corcoran play their roles as if Bukowski himself had summoned them up. —David Finkle
West Village restaurant manager Don Nicholson strides onto the stage of the Jane Street Theatre. A robust, bald-headed, African American man—sporting a ring in each ear and a kicky pair of madras shorts—he smiles broadly and relaxes into an armchair. And, really, his ease is remarkable, for Mr. Nicholson is about to star in an avant-garde episode of This Is Your Life.
In Lifegame—a work of “spontaneous theater” created by Impro scribe Keith Johnstone and members of the U.K.’s Improbable Theatre Company—a corps of actors improvises the life of a preselected guest. (Yes, “preselected,” so the shy among us may attend in peace.) After a rudimentary screening process, the guest is invited to the show, shown the workings of a body mike, and thrust into the stagelights. At the performance’s beginning, the actors know nothing but the guest’s name, so a host serves as interviewer. The questioner asks about childhood experiences, family memories, first kiss, current job, etc. When the actors find a memory intriguing, they jump up and play the memory out. The host invites the guest to ding a bell if the improv rings true or honk a horn when notes strike false.
It’s all too easy to link such a piece to new trends in reality TV, America’s therapy culture, or Whose Line Is It Anyway?—and such parallels aren’t wrong. But, fortunately, they don’t stop Lifegame from providing a fine night out. Whether it’s the visual joke of a pasty Englishman playing Nicholson, the travesty of American regional accents, the vivid musical accompaniment, the daredevil theatrics, the piss taken—it’s quite good fun. And Lifegame‘s stated concern with the poetics of the mundane has quite a payoff. It not only inscribes an individual history with a comforting arc, but also generates pathos and identification. Apparently, the unexamined life is well worth performing. —Alexis Soloski
In Chic Band, a play about an all-girl band’s quest for the big time, group members Abe, PK, and Beaz bounce off each other like springboards—their chitter-chatter zipping from one person to another. Their stoner bandmate Dar can’t understand a word they say, or even what they’re trying to say. Big problem—neither can we.
Playwright Jaene Leonard’s overly cutesy dialogue might be forgiven, if the “Oh my gawd!”s, “Dude!”s, and “No way!”s actually made any sense or culminated in a punch line later. And though she gets close, very, very close, when new drummer Geri Steinway first meets the band, the dialogue sounds like a forced attempt at cool.
Presented at Baby Jupiter in four weekly episodes, Chic Band suffers from this distracting verbiage—unless you’re looking for clichés and trite wordplay. Fortunately, the strong acting withstands the problematic writing. Janna Delgado as Dar behaves like a dizzy, dumb blond, but is really a dizzy, dingy brunet, and gets appropriately irritated and paranoid with her bandmates’ antics; Kristin Blozie, as the band’s new drummer, resides comfortably center stage and offers some grounding for her flighty friends. But the funniest moment comes in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her cameo, when Tara Donnelly, as aspiring drummer Betty Bullet, interviews for the position and proves she’s more dense than Dar by unnecessarily repeating everything that PK (played by Leonard), Abe, and Beaz say.
Prey for Rock and Roll, another recent girl-band play, was as gritty as its writer, real-life rocker Cheri Lovedog. Chic Band‘s characters all wear the I’m so tough, I’m in a rock band pose, but lack the pure sleaze of Prey‘s cast. The Chics are aiming for laughs, not drama, but we’ll have to wait and see if they have as much heart as their hardy contemporaries. —Tricia Romano