The Black Rider
by Willard Manus
Beautiful. Maddening. Incomprehensible. Self-indulgent. Grotesque. Gutsy.
just a few of the adjectives that pop into mind when attempting to describe
the Robert Wilson/Tom Waits/William Burrough musical fable, THE BLACK
RIDER--THE CASTING OF THE MAGIC BULLETS, which is now on tap at the Ahmanson
His BLACK RIDER collaborators, Waits (original music and lyrics) and William Burroughs (text), have helped Wilson turn the folk tale into a Cabaretlike show, complete with M.C., jazzy musical riffs (echoes of Kurt Weill), and vaudeville turns (Mary Margaret O'Hara lampooning a nightclub chanteuse). Combine these elements with forest settings (Wilson goes heavy on the moonlight and mist), characters representing woodsmen, birds, animals and ghosts and you've got a grand and glorious...mess.
Burrough's narrative, largely having to do with the seven magic bullets (or wishes) the hero is awarded by the devil, is near-incomprehensible. Wait's songs are more telling (and vivid), but spoiled by the decision to make everyone sing the way he does--throatily and raspily. It's like looking a gift hoarse in the mouth.
There is dark fun and much eye-candy in THE BLACK RIDER, which was first produced in German in Hamburg sixteen years ago. For all its theatrical adventurousness and experimentation, though, it seems to have lost something in translation.
Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call 213-628-2772 or visit centertheatregroup.org