“Bill & Joan” Review by Rose Desena

This Week in Theater

 

                            “Bill and Joan”

 Written by Jon Bastian

Photos by Jessica Sherman

Review by Rose Desena

 

A Look at the Demons of Brilliance.

 

Sacred Fools entertains the audience with a stellar production of Bill and Joan, a glimpse into the life of William S. Burroughs, a writer who was an important part of literary history, and the life he shared with his common-in-law wife, Joan Vollmer.

 

William S. Burroughs (Bill) novelist, poet and father to the beat generation was born into the wealthy Burroughs family of St Louis in 1914. He attended Harvard University but clearly shunned the conservative life that most of his peers were striving for.  He had no intension of joining the family business and was happy to be bought off with a small trust fund.

 

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After World War II, the country was on a wild ride; in the late 1940’s, there was a clear separation between the intelligentsias and the “squares”. The Beatnik Generation, those who could drop out of society, lived on allowances, and indulged themselves in their clever paradise without any consequences, became a generation-defining tribe.

 

He quickly imitated European café life socializing in NYC and San Francisco cafes, underground bars, and music clubs, and this gave him access to a society living on the edge that he craved.  Through out his life Burroughs battled depression, and had fondness for alcohol, marijuana and heroin, which became the core of his most famous books.

 

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Burroughs was always attracted to those who were on the fringes of society. His close friends were Alan Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac, but he felt most comfortable with harder core deviants like street dealers and thieves, echoing his contemporary Jean Genet in France. His books, like Naked Lunch, were banned and became the coda for a generation as they were passed around in cafes.

 

Soon heroin became his raison d’être as it absorbed his life and literature. The voices in his head and his alter ego integrated producing an American literary outlier of the time, Jon Bastian, the playwright, does an excellent job of laying this naked in front of the audience.

 

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Although he was openly homosexual, he was intrigued with a woman he met at a party in NYC.  They spent a night together and exchanged their secrets; it was as if they were soul mates. Joan was just as destructive; her daily fix was the drug speed. She became his common-in-law wife, and they spent several years on a farm in Texas and then Mexico City. Their relationship was volatile and cantankerous, but somehow they shared an emotional bond that made separation impossible. It was as if they were intertwined in misery. I would describe it as very Sid and Nancy, or Bonny and Clyde. Bastian brings their strong connection to an acceptable and believable understanding.

 

Burroughs is living in Mexico city with Joan and his son William Jr. They fled there after he was accused of drug dealing.  The play opens in a Mexican jail with Burroughs being interrogated by two detectives. His wife was shot and died in a Red Cross hospital  There was a game in a bar; the shot was fired from his gun, and they wanted to know what happened.

 

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Bastian brings to life all those personalities that wore away at him; they drove him and controlled him as if he was their puppet. We watch their relationship through flash backs as he probes deep into his mind as he tries desperately to figure out what happened in the bar.

 

Curt Bonnem, who plays Burroughs, is excellent as the tormented soul always wearing his signature suit and tie. I could feel the pain.

 

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Betsy Moore rocks it as his wife Joan. A weak willed woman, who suffered with her own issues, Joan ends up in a mental hospital while Burroughs was under house arrest in St. Louis. Unable to live without her, he rescued her when he returns to NYC.  That is so romantic, yet their relationship was so disturbing.

 

One of my favorite Burroughs alter egos is Clem Snide (Bart Tangredi), the spitting image of Dashiell Hammett, and obviously, Burroughs had a fondness for hard-boiled detective novels. I loved Donnelle Fuller with her very dark, weak and destructive side. Matt Valle is the young boy Burroughs possessed and used to explore his bizarre sexual desires.  Lauren Campedelli  plays the woman he wished he could love, and she is everything Joan wasn’t.

 

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Richard Azurdia ( Kiki) and Alexander Matite  (Tito), as the Mexican detectives, work well together as the good cop and the bad cop. Tito read a manuscript that he found in Burroughs’ bag, which are the notes for his book Queer, and the detective has a change of heart, realizing how addicted and disturbed he was.

 

Tito, under the direction of his Captain, tries to get Burroughs to take his much-needed fix, but when he refuses he figures something is wrong, Tito sympathizes and helps in getting him released on bail, and Burroughs takes the opportunity to flee Mexico. Its not clear why the police let him go while watching the play but research suggests his family bribed the police and set up a case that would confirm Joan’s death was an accident.

 

Burroughs never really remembered what happened that night, but it did change something in him, and until the day he died, he swore he really did love her, but his love of hard drugs was  stronger and like all destructive relationships it became his worst nightmare.
This is a really good depiction of the time period, great acting and expert directing by Diana Wyenn, and combined with the noir setting makes this hard-edge story a sheer joy to watch, with the cast really digging into their characters.

 

I loved it. Don’t miss it.

 

                            “BILL & JOAN”

 

Written by Jon Bastian

Directed by Diana Wyenn

Cast:   Richard Azurdia, Curt Bonnem, Lauren Campedelli, Lauren Campedelli , Donnelle Fuller, Alexander Matute, Will McMichael, Betsy Moore, Scot Shamblin, Bart Tangredi and Matt Valle.

 Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm through ,March 1, 2014,

with two additional 8 pm performances on Thursday, February 6 & 13, 2014.

 

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