Me, myself, and why

Fred Curchack, one of America's foremost performance artists, whips up an orgy of self-confrontation with Live Love Acts

This regret has informed his work for years now. Both Live Love Acts and Curchack's more nakedly self-referential solo pieces are populated with vengeful and sorrowful women who have been jilted.

For the last two years, Curchack has been in a relationship with stage actress Shannon Kearns, who has just finished giving eight performances a week as the matricidal Electra at the acclaimed Clarence Brown Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. Indeed, she is preparing to move to Dallas and live with Curchack at his home in Richardson. They spent much of last summer traveling up the East and West coasts together, visiting friends and family members, and pausing for the occasional gig Curchack had scheduled. Kearns was around Curchack at the inception of Live Love Acts, acted as a witness to the piece as it evolved from idea into dialogue and blossomed as character. He shared the work with her at every stage.

"With the way Fred works, you just have to let it all come out first," Kearns notes. "You can't stop the flow. And then you examine what you have. Fred would read parts to me knowing that if I found any of it truly frightening, I'd say something. And I would've said something. But I was aware of the angle of irony that Fred was coming from. Plus, the material is just so outrageous, you know that it's a very small part of what's in a lot of men that has been magnified and refracted and exaggerated.

Mark Graham
Fred Curchack portrays DJ Pollochek, a "Don Juan for the new millennium" who prides himself on his oral ability to please women.
Mark Graham
Fred Curchack portrays DJ Pollochek, a "Don Juan for the new millennium" who prides himself on his oral ability to please women.

"I feel confident in saying that he's a kind, gentle man. The Fred Curchack I know is not at all like DJ Pollochek." She pauses, laughing a little. "But obviously, there's a part of DJ somewhere in Fred."

The prestigious Magic Theatre in San Francisco will likely produce Live Love Acts next year. But after artistic director Larry Eilenberg saw a videotaped performance of the piece, he asked Curchack to deliver it live for some of his female colleagues.

"There is a lesbian feminist overclass in San Francisco," Curchack says. "And when I went to perform it, they were having a lesbian theater festival. I said, 'Larry, bring on the lesbians.' He assembled a female audience -- I'm not actually sure how many of them were gay -- and they were howling. They were laughing harder than some of the men who've seen the show. One of the audience members came up afterward, gave me a hug, and said that the show was a 'chick flick.' I don't want to speculate on that statement, but it was drenched in meaning. Anyway, it passed the test."

If you get the sense that Curchack is wallowing in carnality as well as condemning sexual exploitation in Live Love Acts, you would not be mistaken. But there's a purpose to the faux hedonism. His decades spent studying Tibetan and Eastern philosophies have created a bit of a schism between his past and today. Curchack describes himself as a "secular Jewish guy" who observes Passover and Hanukkah simply because they remind him of good feelings from his childhood, not because they hold personal religious significance. Indeed, he describes the Judeo-Christian tradition as "damaging," because "it splits the body and the mind, turning the physical into the profane and the emotional and spiritual into the sacred. That's bullshit. The body is an interrelated series of physical, mental, and emotional energies, and sex is the highest expression of all those united. Or, it should be the highest expression. But the Puritan roots in our culture intervene. They lead us not only to snicker at sex, but when we do treat it and congratulate ourselves on how liberated we are, we render it superficially, turn it into something worth being ashamed of."

Of course, Curchack does want you to giggle -- hell, he'd be thrilled by a guffaw -- at all the ridiculous rutting in Live Love Acts. But he puts his wisdom into the words of this show. For all the baroque porno burlesque he rolls out, he makes a clear morality play out of DJ Pollochek's rampaging ignorance. This Don Juan thinks he's giving to women through marathon sessions of cunnilingus, but he's keeping the most basic sexual essence of himself inside. DJ cannot come; he dare not leave himself vulnerable with an orgasm. He doesn't ejaculate, he tells frustrated partners, he "injaculates."

That's the kind of self-deception that Curchack hopes to escape by using his theater to make fun of himself, and then us, and hopefully invite us to realize that there is meaning beneath the absurdity of all our arrogant assumptions, expectations, and prefab identities.

"It's spoken about in every religion and every culture, the idea of emerging from illusion, from the lie of surface existence. That extends to the symbolism of theater. I guess that's why Shakespeare used acting as a symbol for life, for the illusion of life, for the 'play' of all things and the seven seasons of man. Theater is a symbol par excellence for all human activity, which is unconscious, asleep, separated from reality. If you can have even the tiniest little light shining into your unconsciousness, your sleepwalking state, that can indicate the possibility of waking up, of liberation."

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