The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, September 29, 2006, Arts

Bars, Bedrooms, Bukowski

Rogue Performance Venue, through Oct. 8

Running Time: 2 hrs

Bars, Bedrooms, Bukowski, the premiere production of Rogue Performance at their new venue just south of Ruta Maya, features only one bar, more than a few bedrooms, and lots and lots of Charles Bukowski. Bukowski, a prolific writer of poetry, short stories, and novels, wrote for decades from the Fifties until his death in the Nineties. Director and adaptor James Cotton has surrounded four of Bukowski's short stories with vignettes about fans who come on a whim to visit Bukowski's house and whom Bukowski always allows in the front door. But they're not your stereotypical literary fans. They're alcoholics, drug addicts, and very loose men and women; the dissolute, the discarded, the down-and-outers; the kind of characters Bukowski used to people his fiction.

What they do, for the most part, is drink, talk about love, smoke, drink, have sex, smoke, drink, and then have another drink. And they drink it all: beer, vodka, tequila, whatever. Bobby Martinez's one-room-apartment set is littered, mostly with bottles of every conceivable kind, everything from full to mostly empty. And if more comes, they drink that.

Just in terms of human excess, it's an interesting play, but there's more. Three of the four Bukowski stories – there's one glaring exception – are clever and intriguing in their bare outlines. In "Love for 17.50," a young man falls in love with a mannequin and eventually confesses his love to his girlfriend in the mannequin's presence. In "Guts," Bukowski's alter ego hears about a woman who lives in his boarding house cellar from a drunken friend who has fallen in love with her, and Bukowski seeks her out and they … well, they drink and have sex, but you probably guessed that. In "Strokes to Nowhere," a man's wife goes to her dying mother's side, and the man seduces her best friend, who has a brother that can dematerialize. (He can. Really. He does it in the show.) The material is funny, and the acting is filled with a strangely alluring decadence, most effectively embodied by James Brownlee as the cheating spouse, Andrew Varenhorst as the special brother, and Steven Alford as the mannequin-lover. With these characters throughout is their creator, Charles Bukowski, played by Steve Wright as a man slowly sucking into himself, his shoulders seemingly above his neck, his brow jutting, eyes baggy, hair slicked, slouching around drunken and mumbling – a dead ringer for my two truck-driving stepfathers.

While the script could use some work, Cotton has cleverly assembled great material and cast it with an interesting and varied group of actors. And he obviously loves his subject matter, as is evidenced by the smoky, muted trombone that accompanies much of it. In this instance at least, it's difficult not to love Bukowski. What he wrote was often laced with misogyny, but that's Bukowski. The thing is, these people, female or male, just don't care. They know what they want, and they understand the rules. If all they can live in is a cellar, then they live in a cellar. If they want something to drink, they're so well-known at the liquor store that the order's at the door as soon as they hang up the phone.

Hell, what could be better than that?

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