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‘Bardoville’ review: Bukowski in Bardoville

June 5, 2017
Music, Theater


My pilgrim’s progress toward the mid-May premiere of Bardoville, an “intermedia performance ritual,” began last March at Portland ‘s Clinton Theater’s emotionally transformative screening of the enigmatic Northwest-filmed work The Book of Jane, an engaging contemporary rendering of the Triple Goddess mythology from Irish lore created by former Berkeley-based performance artists and creative collaborators, paratheater researchers, filmmaker and musical/aural collage artists Antero and Sylvi Alli.

Memorie Eden, Hank Peterson, Randal S. Slager, Wendy Allegaert and Cibyl Kavan in “Bardoville.”

Following a trance-inducing musical performance by Sylvi, Antero explained during the Q & A his own pilgrims’ progress from Scandinavian philosophy and art student to teacher and paratheater practitioner of the experimental director Jerzy Grotowski’s work method and approach. On their company ParaTheatrical ReSearch PDX website, I found the working vision statement of the paratheater classes and experimental project genesis of Bardoville with a note at the end coyly crediting “Text by C. Bukowski.”

Entering Southeast Portland’s Northwest PerformanceWorks studio, way out on towards the purgatorial reaches of the SE Foster Road and Holgate flood plain of Precision Castparts polluted Johnson Creek, the audience for the May 14 Bardoville premiere finds four women and three men dressed in black with white-face on tape marked floor quadrants doing stretching exercises.

The audience takes seats in a semi-circle around the bare floor except for a small foldable card table at the front white projection wall with a vintage manual typewriter and empty beer and wine bottles splayed around that small corner by the BARDO TOILET door off-stage and littered with balled-up pages of clearly rejected drafts issuing from that typewriter.

High definition video of a graffiti-scrawled freight train crossing a typically beat-down Portland old rail bridge with the clatter and roll sounds amplified to a low rumble are punctuated every few minutes by a clear Tibetan bowl bell from behind the semi- circle seated audience where co-director Sylvi Alli and her three woman chorus of chant, song and sound vocalizers named E.V.E. (Experimental Vocal Ensemble) assemble around a single microphone.

Their work throughout the nearly hour-long theater ritual will sound at times like wordless harmonic wailing alternating with liturgical chant that could be coming from a cave or an urban loft where Meredith Monk is vocally composing and de-composing in her own spiritual preparations. At other times after silent or very low undertone accompaniment or ambient percussion to the archetype interactions, characterizations and movement with poetry unfurled before us, we might hear a lone coyote baying off in the distance or an approaching wolf pack wailing with some subtle phasing and electronic effects.

I do hope there will be a CD of the varying three nights of E.V.E. vocal creations made available. Alli’s inner ear and her collaborators’ willingness to follow her into sound territories uncharted make for exciting listening whether as accompaniment or focal point.

Memorie Eden (front), Antero Ali as Murderous Preacher, Randal S. Slager (upstage) as The Poet, Wendy Allegaert as Angel/Witch, and Maple Holmes (bowing) in “Bardoville.”

The Poet, played by Randal S. Slager with no attempt to mimic or impersonate the one and only Bukowski or “Buk” inhabits the narrative voice quite snugly. His entrance is almost feline as he slips in from the door marked BARDO TOILET with a house cat darting behind from backstage. Dressed in boxer shorts, dark socks and tank t-shirt, he settles in at the flimsy folding tv dinner table upon which is perched the vintage manual typewriter. He proceeds to type feverishly at first then into staccato bursts as the movement characters arise from their stretching positions, and Antero Alli’s character of the ‘Murderous Preacher’ peels himself off the front white projection wall where the rumbling freight train had passed gesturing almost delicately behind the typing Poet with blood-soaked hands.

Like the other six non-verbal and non-named movement actors creating archetypes of their own through paratheatre process sessions, ‘Murderous Preacher’ is dressed in black but with some golden cross embroidery as the front pattern of his tunic.  ‘Murderous Preacher’’s head is either hooded as in Berber burnoose or covered in a vaguely papal or perhaps French baker’s floppy tri-cornered black chapeau.

The lights go down, the freight train has clattered and rolled along on by and the rear projection wall reverts to blank while The Poet begins reading from his recently typed and rapidly un-scrolled page the Bukowski words so well chosen for our times:

“come on in”

welcome to my wormy hell.
the music grinds off-key.
fish eyes watch from the wall.
this is where the last happy shot was
the mind snaps closed
like a mind snapping
we need to discover a new will and a new
we’re stuck here now
listening to the laughter of the
my temples ache with the fact of
the facts.
I get up, move about, scratch
I’m a pawn.
I am a hungry prayer.
my wormy hell welcomes you.
hello, hello there. come in, come on in!
plenty of room here for us all,
we can only blame ourselves so
come sit with me in the dark.
it’s half-past

The flow from scene to scene varied each of the three full-house nights I attended, although the interpretively perceived scenario retained a narrative integrity around which each character acts and reacts like jazz soloists departing and returning to a melodic structure and interactive core. Sylvi Alli has crafted the musical and aural collage accompaniment with her highly flexible and colorfully timbred chorus to accentuate Bukowski’s poetic peculiarities.

Before The Poet has completed his hunt and peck or yanked another page spared the fate of tossed balled up reject, Sylvi Alli and E.V.E. have already begun vocalizing mewling cats getting catty with each other in cramped confines co-habiting with an orally fixated manic depressive stumblebum in perpetual state of inebriation. One wishes some of Buk’s cats could have jitterbugged across an Olivetti tapping out their own impressions of living with The Poet:

“in other  words”

the Egyptians loved the cat
were often entombed with it
instead of with the women
and never with the dog

but now
good people with
good eyes
are very few
yet fine cats
with great style
lounge about
in the alleys of
the universe.

our argument tonight
whatever it was
no matter
how unhappy
it made us

remember that
there is a
adjusting to the
space of itself
with a delightful

in other words
magic persists
without us
no matter what
we may try to do
to spoil it.

With ritual design/theatrical direction by Antero Alli, Bardoville had a narrative arc and displayed elements of classical tragedy/drama such as confrontation/conflict/resolution. From a relatively restrained opening night, each movement actor inhabiting an archetype became more expressive and less inhibited or confined to their energy quadrant. Without giving too much away but understanding that this entire production is a product of our current time on earth within a community of nations, suffice it to say that when the darker forces of human nature and life on the food chain assert themselves, reminding us of the revealed truth in a William Faulkner character’s observation in his experimental part novel, part play Requiem for a Nun that “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” catharsis in the Greek tragic mode will be putting in an appearance when it can no longer be sublimated.

L-R: Wendy Allegaert (partly turned), Antero Alli as Murderous Preacher, Randal S. Slager as The Poet, Cibyl Kavan (center), Hank Logan Peterson as Orphaned Rock Star (back), and Memorie Eden in “Bardoville.”

Wendy Allegaert’s physicalizing of her Angel/Witch duality archetype and blossoming from opening night to closing night felt especially nuanced, contrasting with Hank Peterson’s “Orphaned Rock Star” persona that was developed within the ensemble rather sublimely and expressing his character’s facets the first two nights while going full primal scream on closing night. Peterson’s background in modern Japan’s Butoh theater with its paradoxical forces of seeking to preserve tradition and ritual while being authentic to a world that undermines tradition and ritual the more one seeks to cling to or fetishize these identity tokens felt utterly raw in its activist release of conflicting impulses. From pagan to Public Servant to vigilante, Peterson’s sublimation during the takedown of The Poet developed incrementally until it blew and spewed all over. Secret Service agents used to be asked whether they’d be willing to “take a bullet for the President” after the shooting of Ronald Reagan. Nobody will have to ask actor Randal S. Slager whether he’d be willing to sacrifice a tank t-shirt for a paratheater production.


of late
I’ve had this thought
that this country
has gone backwards
4 or 5 decades
and that all the
social advancement
the good feeling of
person toward
has been washed
and replaced by the same

we have
more than ever
the selfish wants of power
the disregard for the
the old
the impoverished
the helpless.
we are replacing want with
salvation with slavery.
we have wasted the
we have become
we have our Bomb
it is our fear
our damnation
and our shame.

something so sad
has hold of us
the breath
and we can’t even

Whether four- part unison whistling segueing into Balkan polyphonic harmonizing, Sylvi Alli and E.V.E. created a soundscape that exceeded the sonic challenges of largely non-verbal paratheater. Her arrangement of the closing round, “In the Belly of the Beast,” by the Bay Area’s Peter Elman, brought it all home with comfort rather than terror.

ParaTheatrical ReSearch PDX’s next creation, Soror Mystica, featuring the poetry of HD (Hilda Doolittle), premieres December 1-3  at PerformanceWorks NW, preceded by The Alchemy Lab, a 10 week paratheatre process.

Mitch Ritter is a former Bay Area journalist for SF Weekly and the Bay Guardian. More recently he has covered the live music scene in Northern California and the Northwest for the international World Culture & Music newsstand magazine Dirty Linen, which was succeeded by an online incarnation, and an irregular contributor to The Outside World, airing over KBOO (listener-sponsored community radio 90.7 FM terrestrial in Po’Town streaming online sidereal to the wider world) beginning at midnight on Friday/Saturday morning. All poems © Charles Bukowski.

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