Theater review: ‘The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse’ at Bootleg


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David J, the writer and director of “The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse,” at the Bootleg Theater, is perhaps best known as a founding member of the seminal ’80s gothic rock group, Bauhaus.

That gothic sensibility is very much on display in this new play, which revolves around the notorious Black Dahlia murder. Unfortunately, the show straddles the line between the horrifying and the jejune, although David J and collaborating composer Ego Plum, along with violinist Ysanne Spevack, contribute effectively creepy live music.


As the murdered Elizabeth Short, Vangeline, mute and ghastly in a wedding dress, moves with the clockwork deliberation of a practiced Japanese butoh artist, her stark white face and blackened eyes frozen into a rictus of agony –- or is it ecstasy? Halloween-worthy trappings include a stage littered with bisected manikins and a live dance sequence featuring Short’s severed halves -– an effect as bizarrely whimsical as it is appalling.

The main action consists of a police interview between a police detective (Douglas Dickerman) and Madi Comfort (Daniele Watts), the real-life lounge singer who was having an affair with George Hodel, a suspect in the case. Considering the otherwise outré tone, their exchanges seem curiously flat and obligatory.

The most interesting plot point is the notion that Short’s murder was actually Hodel’s Surrealist art exercise -- a theory already propounded in the 2006 book, “Exquisite Corpse.” That fascinating twist is given strangely short shrift in the final moments of the play –- a missed opportunity that, if more fully explored, could have kept “Chanteuse” in the realm of the purely uncanny, where it belongs.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

“The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse,” Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays. Ends Oct. 1. $25. (213) 389-3856. Running time: 1 hour.

Brian Jordan Alvarez.