May 24, 2012

When Hank Met Stevie

Well, this got my attention this morning:
LADCC Award-winning California Repertory Company is thrilled to announce the world premiere of B.S.: Bukowski.Sondheim., featuring the words of Charles Bukowski and the music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, to inaugurate their 24th season on November 2nd. Conceived and directed by Joanne Gordon, in her final season as Cal Rep’s Artistic Director, B.S. will run in the Queen Mary’s Royal Theater through December 8th.
In case you missed it, that theater is on a boat. Anchored in Long Beach. Lest you scoff, know that Cal Rep is indeed a company with a pedigree, and that they inaugurated said waterborne theater with, as I recall, the first post-Broadway-fiasco production of Festen. This Bukowski.Sondheim. thing is apparently very personal for the director/conceiver:
Gordon’s artistic life has been guided by an unlikely pair of beacons: Bukowski, the revered chronicler of the downtrodden and lonely in the alley ways of LA, and Sondheim, the brilliant, sophisticated iconoclast of Broadway. Superficially, these two artists have little in common. However, B.S. creator Gordon points to a synergy that unites the essence of the two men. “I have always been moved by a central passion that is so similar in the works of these creative giants, one that has always engendered a fission in my soul,” Gordon relates. “As a young person growing up in South Africa obsessed with Sondheim’s music and Bukowski’s words, I never dreamed that one day I would be given this opportunity to explore their work in a unique theatrical way.” Now both Linda Bukowski, Hank’s widow, and Stephen Sondheim have granted Gordon permission to fuse the two aspects of her passion and bring their voices together.
The mind reels. It's true that Cal Rep does have a track record with both artists; it produced Gordon’s adaptation of Love, Bukowski in her inaugural season there, as well as Sondheim and Weidman's Assassins. That last show, come to think of it, is the sole Sondheim musical with a truly Bukowskian character, the unshaven-loser Santa Sam Byck, though of course that's all Weidman. (You might argue that Elaine Stritch's Joanne—particularly as seen in D.A. Pennebaker's cast-album backstager about the Company cast album—is Bukowskian, too.) Free-associating further, I'll talk out of school and mention that a friend of mine recently related that some decades ago, she spent a dinner in the company of a friend of a friend, to whom she wasn't introduced except by his first name, and whom she described as a smelly, unshaven slob; I think she even joked that he seemed to her like a homeless person. She later learned that smelly "Stevie" was, well, you can guess. I'd imagine that Joanne Gordon's exploration of these two American originals will delve deeper than matters of hygeine and the intake of harmful substances (another convergence between the two, to an extent), but I'll tally this convergence as another plus. Indeed, color me intrigued enough to read this Bukowski quote in a new light: "An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way." Sondheim has come down on both sides of that divide, actually, but not for lack of trying. UPDATE: Writes David Barbour, in a comment on Facebook: "BS sounds just about right. I see it now -- a drunk in a bar with a beer gut and three days worth of bearding, singing, 'Liaisons, what's happened to them?' " I'm starting to warm to this idea, too. I suddenly thought of this great lyric from Sunday in the Park With George:
More red... And a little more red... Blue blue blue blue Blue blue blue blue Even even... Good... Bumbum bum bumbumbum Bumbum bum... More red... More blue... More beer...

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