Poet Gerald Locklin, perhaps best known for his longtime friendship with Charles Bukowski, shares his illustrious pal’s penchant for pickled misanthropy and genially relaxed verse. The Toad Poems juxtaposes Locklin’s poems, performed by alter ego Burl “Toad” Turner (John Wojda), and the unraveling of Turner’s triangular relations with ex-wife Kate (Barbara Pitts) and grad student Casey (Marina Squerciati). It’s a kind of Barfly with an academic pedigree. Fretting his way through readings or assiduously ducking his teaching responsibilities, Turner has a raffish, Nick Nolte–lite charm in Wojda’s portrayal. Wojda reads Locklin’s poetry with rather more dramatic emphasis than it can bear, however. The value in Locklin’s writing lies primarily in its careful observation and offhand humor; deceptively humble, it wilts without the acerbic self-deprecation that Bukowski, for instance, brought to his own public performances.
Squerciati and Wojda never really strike sparks in their scenes together. They’re hampered by the affected terms in which their characters declare their emotions, as though each were constantly trying to outpoet the other. To his credit, Locklin lets both Kate and Casey give Turner some of the drubbing he deserves. But the production—loose enough it could make a Robert Altman shoot seem uptight—ultimately leaves Turner’s story a hazy Southern California dream.