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‘Decline’ Reduces Bukowski’s Effect

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Although he has attracted fanatical fans worldwide, the late writer Charles Bukowski remains a controversial figure whose gutter’s-eye view of the mean streets inspires revulsion as often as admiration.

A prolific poet and prose stylist, Bukowski was a natural showman who cunningly exploited his hard-drinking, bar-brawling persona in his craft. Considering Bukowski’s legendary public performances of his own work, a segue to the stage seems a logical transition.

But what becomes this legend most? Unfortunately, not “Decline and Fall,” the Shop Theatre Company’s ambitious but disappointing Bukowski adaptation at the Tamarind. Based on several Bukowski poems and stories, this adaptation by Marty Parker and James Penner fails to properly synthesize its source material, a shortcoming exacerbated by Jack Shearer’s inappropriately avuncular poet-narrator, whose dulcet delivery seems more suited to a National Geographic special than Bukowski’s downbeat verse.

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Director Todd Frasier and an energetic cast explore the obvious to hilarious effect, although the performers frequently resort to caricature and the evening ends with a forced sensationalism Bukowski would have abhorred. In general, this production too often reduces Bukowski’s complicated nihilism to the level of sitcom. Call this Bukowski Lite; despite the grit sifting through it, it seldom packs the punch of the original brew.

* “Decline and Fall,” Tamarind Theatre, 5919 Franklin Ave., Hollywood. Thursdays-Sundays, 8 p.m. Ends July 27. $17. (888) 566-8499. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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