Monday, April 24, 2006

dance around in your bones

Took a ride along with The Black Rider at the Ahmanson this past Saturday, L.A.'s very own staging of the 1993 musical combining the talents of Tom Waits, William S. Burroughs and Robert Wilson. For those unfamiliar with the CD of the same name, it's not one of my favorites, and I figured this production might crack the music open for me just a tad, just as 2002's "Woyzcek" had with "Blood Money."

Now before I get all theatre geek on you (it's bad enough I've referenced two plays in the same paragraph), I've got to say I'm not a frequent theater-goer. I dislike, no, wait, have utterly no use for, musicals. Yes, Hedwig's a decent exception and, sure, I suppose Jose Feliciano's "Roxanne" in "Moulin Rouge" makes the room seem a bit chillier, but really, I just don't get 'em. Tom Waits was the draw here, and teaming him with Burroughs and the stubbornly avant-garde Wilson was going to keep this night pretty far from Doris Day or Rogers and Hammerstein.

Indeed, the Black Rider's got all the elements that's right in Waits' wheelhouse--the devil, a circus train and, yes, madness--and Burroughs takes a 150-odd year myth and manages to twist it into a junkie fable. But it's Wilson's staging that's the biggest challenge here. With bizarre, asymettrical sets and shafts of red and white light sometimes the only decoration, not to mention a knack for casting the same actor in multiple roles with little explanation, the play remained just a bit beyond the grasp of my wife and I, just as the music still does, to an extent. But one song still stands out like a black wind on a summer morning.

"November," by Tom Waits

That dark wind rises in the form of a whinneying saw before you've even settled in your chair, and a lonely banjo does a staggering tango at the funeral for a busted barroom piano. But Tom Waits' lyrics are what's serving you lunch and spitting on your fork. They're the most deliciously hopeless short story that's ever been told. Listening to them, you're in a bad place. You're staring down a firing squad, tied to an old dead tree with ravens circling overhead. Now you're sunk. Hope? Hope's following that wind out of town. And who's to blame? November, that sunovabitch. It's all over now. Summer's never coming. Go ahead, go on along with the Black Rider. See where it gets you.


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