By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Fred Curchack is performing cunnilingus. In front of a live audience.
Actually, DJ Pollochek, an obscure experimental theater artist, is going down on Serena, the veiled dancer at a sleazy subterranean strip joint called Club X. Both characters are being played by Curchack, a slightly less obscure experimental theater artist.
Curchack, wearing round, respectable wire-rimmed glasses and black clothing, straddles a stool in front of a music stand, where he moves the pages of dialogue fast or slow to match the alternating pianissimo and fortissimo of his acrobatic voice. All of it depends on how enthusiastic the sex acts are.
DJ Pollochek and Serena are really into each other, so voices and pages are flying.
As Serena, Curchack leans back on the stool, stretches his legs on either side of the music stand, and begins to tremble, pant, whine, and bellow in slapstick orgasmic ecstasy. Pollochek is Curchack's "Don Juan for the new millennium," a fellow who prides himself on his oral ability to please women. "I specialize in married women and virgins," a swaggering Pollochek tells the audience assembled in the Undermain basement space. "But anyone with a labia will do."
He's delivering his specialty to the mysterious, beautiful Serena. Curchack, to simulate the act, stretches out his mouth like a duck's bill between both thumbs and forefingers and flutters his lips to make a sputtering, comically un-sexy sound. Serena howls, writhes, begs for more.
Pollochek begins a description of cunnilingus so elaborately purple that it completely dismantles the prurience in such a display. "Blowing the fleshy flugelhorn," Curchack coos. "Tooting on the sweet sashimi saxophone..."
A couple, a young man and a woman, sit in the front row. They're laughing and twisting their heads away from the bawdy shenanigans onstage. They've been warned -- advance press for Live Love Acts, Fred Curchack's newest one-man show, has declared it "unsuitable for children and simple-minded, puritanical adults." The young couple are neither. Both are embarrassed, but their involuntary chortling signals they won't be walking out in disgust anytime soon.
Indeed, if you don't recognize the innocent buffoonery behind much of Curchack's re-imagining of the Don Juan myth, then you're hunting for a reason to be outraged about sexual content in art. Live Love Acts, his 23rd solo piece and a self-produced performance (the Undermain space is the venue, but Live Love Acts is not an Undermain production), recounts the story of an underappreciated performance artist who ditches his latest wife, descends into an all-night erotic romp with marionettes, strippers, and demented puppeteers, and is eventually undone by something like true love.
Cheerful lunacy abounds amidst the literary allusions: The Dallas-based, 52-year-old Curchack may be America's least pretentious, most benevolent performance artist, a stand-up comic, really, a vulgar vaudevillian clown who'll do anything for a laugh. In his past works, he's worn multicolored fright wigs and google-eyed glasses; talked in goofy cartoon voices; made dolls fight and fornicate onstage; and had a decided passion for drag, portraying frumpy matrons and sexy Euro sirens with equal relish. He cites Ernie Kovacs, Sid Caesar, Howdy Doody, and a childhood spent rubber-cemented in front of the tube as influences equally important as his favorite writers, artists, and thinkers. He is a very good-natured freak whose deformity -- he was born with high brow and low brow irreparably fused -- propels him to display himself again and again for your amazement.
But this circus exhibitionist has written more than 60 theatrical works, earned Guggenheim Fellowships and National Endowment for the Arts grants (when they were still available to individual artists), traveled the world to study Japanese theatrical technique and Indian philosophy, and won raves in his native New York City as well as in Poland and South America. It's safe to say that Curchack, a resident professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, is this city's most accomplished theater artist, far outstripping Dallas Theater Center's Richard Hamburger or anyone at the Undermain Theatre.
Dallas isn't widely considered a theater town, though, so to declare his prominence here isn't going far enough. Curchack, after all, is internationally recognized as an interpreter of William Shakespeare, with remarkable one-man amalgams of epic Shakespearean casts like What Fools These Mortals Be and Stuff as Dreams Are Made On winning awards at performance festivals around the United States and Europe.
Live Love Acts represents the artist abandoning some old habits. In his non-Shakespeare plays, Curchack's tendency to expose his own foibles behind the footlights seemed to be growing more ferocious in middle age. Live Love Acts, however, contains less unabashed autobiography -- unlike previous efforts such as The Comeback of Freddy Chickan, an excoriating depiction of his own fame lust, or his mid-life suicide comedy A Surprise Party. The fictionalized, eventful plot and dream symbolism in this sexually insatiable new piece apply a more disciplined distance to his mania. Also stripped away are the puppets, masks, light and smoke effects, and video monitors that have characterized his most famous shows up to now. Only Curchack's body, voice, and dextrous verbal dances are available to the audience to create a troubling protagonist -- an artist who, frustrated with mere cult status, turns to blind promiscuity and becomes entangled with a series of women who reveal for the audience just how myopic he is about himself and his relationships.