Writers want a devoted reader—at least one person who pays attention to their musings. Even better: When he or she gets the nuance of prose as it reveals the spectacular, the offensive, the surreal, the horror, the fantasy, the reality—the world through a variation of signs and communications, thought and imagination, research and observation. When a writer gets an FBI file put on him because of his work, well, he might as well pat himself on the back for a job well done. Not only is someone paying attention, powers that be are.
Hailed as “the American laureate of the lowlife,” Charles Bukowski’s “Notes of a Dirty Old Man,” published in the L.A. underground paper, Open City, in 1969, were flagged by the FBI. Bukowski spout tell-it-like-it-is humor and observations of his life without filter. He wrote about encounters with prostitutes, sexual trysts with married women, the bore of work, the drudgery of poor America, and alcohol-fueled escapades, all bent by crude humor and a free psyche that cared none of what others thought. He achieved what most writers only hope to: absolute truth, even of his own volition. More so, he did it by simply not trying. In a letter he wrote in 1963 to American writer and professor John William Corrington, Bukowski explained:
“Somebody . . . asked me: How do you write, create?’ ‘You don’t,’ I told them. ‘You don’t try.’ That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.”
The man behind the novels (“Ham on Rye”) and poems (“Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit”), short stories (“All the Assholes in the World and Mine”) and nonfiction (“The Bukowski/Purdy Letters”) didn’t only capture his life and words on paper, he did live radio recordings and readings. One of his most well-known works, “Barfly,” made it to the screen in the ’80s, and featured Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. Up until Bukowski’s death from leukemia in 1994, he continued to write, across a multitude of mediums, from books to TV.
“All of Buk’s work is autobiographical, but under the guise of fiction,” Nina Bays Cournoyer tells. Nina’s local production company, C’est La Guerre, which is co-run by Georgy Domby and Nina’s husband, Bryan, is planning a Bukowski celebration of events in honor of their September production, “Bukowsical.” C’est La Guerre chose “Bukowsical” as the second play they’ll produce since launching in 2014. It hits the mark on their desire to explore underground theatre—works perhaps not considered across other bills in town and held in non-traditional spaces, outside of theaters. “Bukowsical” will be hosted in Front Street Brewery’s third-floor Beam Room.
“I saw the piece when it first ran in Los Angeles around 2006,” Nina notes. “It’s a show that works best in an intimate space, and is all at once cerebral, theatrical and unapologetically raw. It pushes the limits of comfort on themes like alcohol, sex and general disillusionment with life that Charles Bukowski is known for, and seasons it liberally with humor and ridiculously good music.”
Written as a “backer’s audition,” the show follows an unknown theatre group trying to get their show to Broadway. Nina compares it to Christopher Guest’s famed “Waiting for Guffman.” Yet, “Bukowsical” goes into more detail about the process of the show’s production rather than its finalized piece.
“The audience navigates Bukowski’s life, with the help of ‘The Founder’ character—as in founder of the theater troupe, who narrates the journey,” Nina tells. “You get insight into his childhood, his relationships—with both people and alcohol—and his very slow rise to fame.”
Music plays a large role in the show, befitting of Bukowski, who was considered a rock-star literary figure among many. He’s been hailed and referenced in music and pop culture by the likes of Tom Waits, Bono and Modest Mouse.
“The music runs the gamut of styles: jazz, rock, Latin, traditional Broadway ballads, and ensembles,” tells George, who will direct the music of the show. Parodies of well-known Broadway musicals are referenced as well (“A Chorus Line,” “Les Mis”). “They are as catchy and memorable as any traditional Broadway musical,” George continues. “You don’t have to be Bukowski fan to enjoy this show. The book and lyrics are so smart and funny, and the songs are simply fantastic.”
Before the musical gets underway, C’est La Guerre have held special events to educate the public on Charles Bukowski. They hosted a free screening of “Barfly” at Satellite on Aug. 20.
“When I was in high school, my friends and I would stay up all night watching every movie on Cinemax or HBO, and we’d talk about them the next day,” Bryan remembers. “Well, we all caught ‘Barfly’ one night, and we couldn’t believe what we had watched. It was so raw and spoke on themes that any disillusioned kid would want to find out more about. And Mickey Rourke was such a huge character in that movie; it was just beautiful and true. That’s how I got hooked [on Bukowski].”
Bryan will be directing the debut of “Bukowsical” and acting in it, which is slated to open Thursday, Sept. 18. In addition to Brendan Carter as Bukowski, the cast will consist of Tony Choufani, Beth Corvino, Devin DiMattia, George Domby, Anna Gamel, Erik Maasch, Jeff Phillips, and Katherine Rudeseal; Rudeseal also is choreographing the show. Before it premieres, C’est La Guerre is holding another outreach event on Thursday, Aug. 27, at 7:30 p.m. They will be doing readings of Bukowski’s work at Old Books on Front Street.
“My first introduction to Bukowski was in college, when I read ‘Ham on Rye,’” Nina tells. “It was a style of writing that I hadn’t really experienced before—staccato in rhythm, and voicing the kind of things you might think in a brief uncensored moment but feel like a terrible person [for doing so] afterward. It was refreshing and disturbing, and of course, as soon as I was living in L.A. [where Bukowski lived], his work took on another level of meaning for me.”
Slated for the informal reading are Bridget Callahan, Bob Workmon, Mike Johnson, Gina Gambony, Paul Lemme, Brendan Carter, as well as Nina and Bryan Cournoyer. They’ll be reading 5 to 7 minutes each, from any and all of Bukowski’s works. They’re also welcoming more people who wish to sign up to read (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ahead of time, or sign up the night of the reading). Wine and beer will be available for purchase, and they’ll be serving ham on rye sandwiches.
“We’re hoping to introduce people to Bukowski’s work, to get people familiar with the material,” Nina notes. “Bukowski is known for being a little raunchy, so that’s something we want to prepare people for . . . He never edits himself—what hits the page lives on the page, and he believed it came out that way for a reason. He was a literary trailblazer – shrugging off the ‘rules’ at a time when writing was about form and structure.”