Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Black Rider...













Saw this play/opera with Sarah at the Ahmanson Theater last night. The Black Rider was written by William Burroughs, staged by Robert Wilson, with music by Tom Waits. It's based on an old German fable about a hopelessly "aimless" man who can't marry his love until he proves his skill as a hunter. Useless with a rifle, he makes a pact with Satan, who gives him some magic bullets that will ensure he hits his targets and brings home the bacon. Sounds promising. Right?

In fact, Act 1 is a stinker. A steady stream of freaked out tourists trickled out of the theater not knowing what to make of the stilted, abstract acting, the annoying and alienating German cabaret laugh-in-your-face mood, in short, the creepy Klaus Nomi-ness of it all. On the other hand you couldn't help but notice that they were obviously struggling to incorporate the conventions of more cuddly productions, hit all the right (i.e. bland, insidious) musical notes, cute little gags, etc. in order to please the masses. It was horrible. The self congratulatory leaflets in the loby proclaiming how "hip" the production clearly was, only added to the sadness.

The good news is that once the curtain goes up on the second act, you get the sense that they know they've cleared the house of any doubters and so they can really let loose. What was grating in the first act charms you in the second. The music is darker and more thoughtful. You realize how good, how physically talented, certain cast members are, particularly Matt McGrath in the lead. There are long "dream" scenes which take place without any dialogue. The spoon-fed storytelling evaporates and you are mostly watching a ballet of bodies in motion through a procession of beautiful scenes and scenery.

During the intermission we smelled a skunk. Literally. Or so we thought. It's not uncommon for skunks to wander around the city leaving their odor for all to ponder. But back in the theater, throughout most of the second act, we smelled it again. No, not skunk. Marijuana. Lots of it. I can hardly imagine that anyone in the theater would just light up, but maybe. I'm more inclined to think that the stuff (or some scented facsimile) was being pumped in through the ventilation system in order to enhance the pure psychedelia of the second act. I can't say I was affected by the smell, but after an hour of Robert Wilson's slow moving light scultures, Waits ambient grooves, and Burroughs sing-song sandbox poetry, who the hell can tell?

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