By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I'm not just waving a feminist flag about negative male archetypes," Curchack says of DJ Pollochek, the predator who confuses appetite for ability and is eventually undone by a tardy introduction to glorious intimacy: He falls in love with the stripper Serena and discovers that his relationship with her is more complex than that of nude performer and horny spectator. "I'm saying that, if I'm honest with myself, there is an unflattering aspect to my own psyche that has been nurtured by the culture which has raised me. It's sex as competition and hostile expression."
Key to Curchack's theatrical philosophy is the idea of the theater artist confronting himself onstage, hopefully encouraging audiences to at least stick a toe into the dark pool of their own shadow side, as Jung referred to it. Yet if he admits Live Love Acts is a continuation of that self-confrontation, a direct glare at his own sexism with both headlights blazing, the show is also one of his most universal. It is whole and complete outside the Curchack canon and could be widely produced and performed by actors up to the vocal task. To that end, while on sabbatical from UTD, Curchack is setting down a few of his pieces, Shakespearean adaptations as well as self-penned stuff, into text for possible publication. After clinging to his words for so long, he's beginning to like the thought of someone else spouting them. It greatly expands the possibility of self-confrontation, by other artists and more audiences.
"Like everyone else, I just want to be useful," he says with a gentle, un-Pollochekian grin.
Fred Curchack doesn't know why he wanted to be a performer so early in life, but imaginary playmates he created at age four were members of a traveling troupe of actors with whom he put on shows. By the time he hit elementary school in New York City, his parents -- dad was a photographer turned electronics engineer, mom taught secretaries in a college business department -- were heavily involved in community theater. But they didn't showcase the treacly, A.R. Gurney/Neil Simon-type fare typical of today.
"They rehearsed Ionesco's The Bald Soprano and Sartre's No Exit in my living room, which is perfect, because those are living-room pieces," Curchack says. "The children weren't allowed to see the shows, but I heard some of the rehearsing. At the time, the dialogue made sense to me. It sounded a lot like the conversations I heard most of the time in my living room." He laughs.
He took theater at the High School of the Performing Arts and got a master's degree at Queens College. From there, Curchack plunged into movement-intensive, philosophically grounded forms of international theatrical expression: Balinese Topeng, Indian Kathakali, Japanese Noh. He also began to study the writings of a man who remains one of the greatest influences on his life and art -- Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. He is wary of discussing the influence of Gurdjieff, because "it can come out as cultish gobbledygook. There's so many idiot fringe lunatic zombies who espouse the name Gurdjieff, and he knew it during his lifetime. He said they 'take crumbs from my idea table and turn it into a mill for grinding out nonsense.' There's zero attempt by serious students to persuade people about his philosophies."
To accurately describe the ideas of Gurdjieff would take more than the entire space of this newspaper. After a youth spent traveling Asia and Africa and studying oral traditions, Gurdjieff escaped Russia at the outbreak of the 1917 Revolution and eventually settled in France, where he wrote in cafes and took pupils until he died in 1949. All you should know for the purposes of Curchack is that Gurdjieff espoused a lifelong process of self-awareness called The Work whose ultimate goal is "waking up." That's a phrase Curchack uses constantly in our conversations, and he sees his stage work as an attempt to "wrest myself from the sleepwalking state that I and most humans exist in, to become aware of myself underneath the routine behavior and reflexive palaver that spills out of my mouth." And he insists that one of his performance rules is never to discuss The Work in his stage shows: "It becomes not a description of, but hopefully an embodiment of the results of The Work." To be fair to Curchack, one would never glean any evangelical intent behind his performances, probably because, as he says, he works "in the negative. I want to show the importance of self-awareness by showing people who are completely unaware of themselves, and the consequences of that. Don Juan is unredeemed because he refuses to look at all the messy, hostile, aggressive shit that's pouring out of him."
But there's a very slick downslope from self-confrontation to confession to onstage masturbation, which Live Love Acts features as a literal, self-deprecating metaphor. Curchack's work has slipped in and around all these points on the scale: Both The Comeback of Freddy Chickan and The Inquest of Freddy Chickan featured Curchackian alter egos who pined shamelessly, abrasively, and fruitlessly for big money and Hollywood-style fame as reward for a lifetime dedicated to fringe theatrical craft. A Surprise Party features a man who decides to commit suicide on his 50th birthday (Curchack performed it at the Dallas Video Festival the year he turned 50). A party ensues, with friends, children, ex-wives, girlfriends, all coming with voracious needs and recriminations that justify his pulling the trigger. Where do the danger zones lie in such self-mythologizing?