The Arts
June 21-27, 2006

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Fred Curchack

Dwarfed: Curchack sends tourist snaps of himself standing before Stonehenge to the press.

Song and Spice

Fred Curchack's anarchic, tasty 'Gumbo'

By David Templeton

Fred Curchack has done pretty much everything a self-respecting performance artist can do on stage, and those few things he hasn't done, he's simulated. In more than 70 original ensemble theater pieces and 26 solos works staged at international theater festivals and at theaters and colleges around the country, Curchack has performed his own version of Japanese Noh theater, has done a Kathakali dance-theater version of Hamlet and a shadow-puppet interpretation of William Blake's The Mental Traveler, and found more ways of twisting Shakespeare into knots than penguins have ways of looking adorable.

On more than one occasion, he has, of course, gotten totally naked.

A professor at the University of Texas, Curchack has taught theater at the United Nations International School in New York and at Sonoma State University, and has launched dozens of world premieres in Sonoma County, primarily at the Cinnabar Theater, where he is about to open a new show in which he does something he's never done before: perform a concert of original folk-rock tunes.

That's right, the show--titled Freddy's Chicken Gumbo, with the somewhat out-of-body subtitle Fred Sings Curchack Songs--will carry no through-story to speak of and will display no noticeable theatrical arc. Gumbo, as the man has planned it, will just be Curchack accompanying himself on guitar, singing up a tuneful stew of offbeat songs composed for various shows over the last couple of decades. Just to keep things spicy, he'll include a dozen or so brand-new songs written, he says, "just for the pleasure of it."

"I'm thoroughly excited by the new songs," says Curchack, who is in Sonoma County for the summer. "They are much more complete--and challenging and funny and sad--then the previous stuff I've done for the shows I've written.

"Well, not many of them are sad," he adds. "I'm writing a rather ecstatic one right now, which should get a certain kind of rise out of people. But I'm 58 years old now. As well as knowing much deeper and more profound joys in my life, I also know much deeper levels of sadness. And what better place to explore those feelings than in song? Song is the most ancient and traditional venue for exploring the deepest of emotions."

Asked to describe his songwriting style, Curchack lists the various styles he employs, from blues and folk to Broadway-style show tunes and even some rap, before pronouncing that his songs are simply a "big barrage of words." Sounds like it, but if anything, the songs are a barrage with a very specific edge. "Twiddle Twaddle," for example, is a song about the gibberish we tell one another, and the gibberish we believe, particularly during war time.

"Vile Wiley McFly" tells of a guy on death row being served his last meal ("You're in the House of Correction for society's protection / But a lethal injection just gives you an erection!"). There will also be a number of what Curchack himself calls "really stupid sing-alongs," including one, "Compassion," featuring the boisterous audience response, "Who gives a fuck!" And of course, there will be the song from which the whole evening takes its name, "Chicken Gumbo."

"That's one extremely sexy song," says Curchack, "one bad-ass sexy song." "Gumbo" is about a Cajun guy telling his lover how much he loves her cooking while celebrating the gradual rebirth of Cajun culture in Louisiana, post-Katrina. But mainly it's about gumbo. "Gumbo is taken very seriously by Cajun people," says Curchack. "It's almost religious, how secretive and sacred those gumbo recipes are. So I'm dealing with gumbo on several levels in that song, and one of those levels is sexual, because any Cajun will tell you that making gumbo is a very, very sexy operation."

As is Curchack, evidently, when in songwriting mode. At any rate, he says, the audience will not be bored. "I guarantee they will be entertained and amused," he laughs, "and possibly even a little bit enlightened--but they will definitely be entertained."

'Freddy's Chicken Gumbo' runs Friday-Saturday, June 23-24 and June 30-July 1, at the Cinnabar Theater. 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 8pm. $9-$12. 707.763.8920.

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