Courtney Love wears her ghostliness with a rock star’s swagger.
When she enters the playing area that has been set up at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, where “Kansas City Choir Boy” opened Sunday, she looks as though she could vanish at will before our very eyes.
Her beauty, smudged by time, is spectral. The tattoos marking her alabaster skin (“Let it bleed” scrolled across one arm) seem like graffiti on a house that has been abandoned at different point in its history. The faraway look in her eyes suggests that she may be here only for a final goodbye.
Part of this is intrinsic to the cult persona of Kurt Cobain’s wayward widow, the former frontwoman of the grunge band Hole and a long-standing tabloid target. But part of this is the figure she portrays in Todd Almond’s staged concert, a work that isn’t so much a musical as notes toward the development of one.
Rather than a traditional book, there is a situational sketch. And rather than fully drawn characters, there are presences that are remembered and reimagined.
The production, directed by Kevin Newbury and featuring a chorus of six women designated in the program as Sirens, treats the material as a surreal hall of mirrors in a rock club. To intensify the atmosphere, additional audience seating has been set up adjacent to the narrow band of stage upon which the performance is concentrated.
Almond portrays a musician hard at work on a recording. An old-fashioned television flashes with the report of a local girl found dead in a New York City park. This seems to be memory breaking through, the creative process haunted by an irreparable loss.
The piece unfurls as Almond’s character recollects in song the relationship he had with this romantic friend, who left him behind in Kansas City to chase after bigger dreams. Their connection is life-alteringly intense, but a happy ending is not in the cards.
Los Angeles Times photographers document the year in arts and culture.(Los Angeles Times)
When the Mariinsky Ballet performed “Cinderella” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 8, even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn’t bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority. Read more >>(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins leaves a rehearsal of his play “Appropriate,” opening Oct. 4 at the Mark Taper Forum, to eat first with a reporter, then later with his agent and some unspecified Hollywood people, who presumably hope to lure him away from the field and city where he has experienced meteoric success in the last five years. Read more >>(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kerstin Anderson takes charge of Maria von Trapp with a spirit so joyful, a physicality so lithe and coltish, and a soprano so flawlessly soaring that only Frau Schraeder, Capt. Von Trapp’s jilted fiancée (Teri Hansen), could possibly resist her charm. Read the Oct. 1 review >>(Los Angeles Times)
Soprano Abigail Fischer performs Oct. 7 in the opera “Songs from the Uproar” at REDCAT in Los Angeles.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent,” which played at the Mark Taper Forum, opening on July 26, renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity. Read review >>(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Malaviki Sarukkai performing at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on July 19, 2015. Sarukkai is the best-known exponent of South Indian classical dance.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Bramwell Tovey conducts the L.A. Phil with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14, 2015.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Argentine dancer Herman Cornejo performs in the West Coast premiere of “Tango y Yo” as part of the Latin portion of BalletNow.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jake Shears plays Greta in Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Aug. 23, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers rehearse a one-night-only performance choregraphed by Raiford Rogers, one of L.A.'s most-noted choreographers. This year the dance will be to a new original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley in Los Angeles on July 9, 2015.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Mia Sinclair Jenness, left, Mabel Tyler and Gabby Gutierrez alternate playing the title role in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre. The three are shown during a day at Santa Monica Pier on June 16, 2015.(Christina House / For The Times)
American Contemporary Ballet Company members Zsolt Banki and Cleo Magill perform a dance routine originally done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This performance was presented as part of "Music + Dance: L.A.” on Friday, June 19, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Miguel, a Grammy-winning guitarist, producer, singer and lyricist, is photographed in San Pedro on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. His new album "Wildheart,” explores L.A.'s “weird mix of hope and desperation.”(Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of “The Next Hot Line.” This piece is part of his show “Scorched Earth,” installed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, June 11, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Opera concluded its season with “The Marriage of Figaro,” with Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro and Pretty Yende as Susanna, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
“Trinket,” a monumental installation by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, features an American flag that is 16 feet tall and 45 feet long. The work is on display at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through June 28.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Knox, from left, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim and Paige Lindsey White in “Pygmalion” in spring 2015 at the Pasadena Playhouse.(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
On March 17, Google celebrated the addition of more than 5,000 images to its Google Street Art project with a launch party at the Container Yard in downtown Los Angeles.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Ric Salinas, left, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, of the three-man Latino theater group Culture Clash, brought their “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival” to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to mark the group’s 30th anniversary. The play ran from Feb. 4 through March 1.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
There is little point in trying to reconstruct a coherent narrative from a work in which fantasy and history are so entwined. (My companion intuited that the reason this couple couldn’t last was that Almond’s character was gay, which seemed perfectly plausible but speculative.) “Kansas City Choir Boy” allows itself the same freedom that song lyrics enjoy in suggesting rather than spelling out a story.
The show would be stronger, however, if it gave the audience more of an objective glimpse of the relationship. Right now everything is a bit too subjective. Almond hasn’t provided sufficient reason for us to care about these figures, and thus the work trades on the power of the performers to supply something that isn’t in the writing.
Love, whose character is called Athena, attacks her alternative-rock numbers like a gravelly voiced goddess. The lyrics don’t say much, but Love imbues them with information all her own on conflicted longings, aching regret and tragic misfortune.
Love, however, disappears before the end. The Sirens take over, scattering about the playing area as her dreamlike substitutes. Love returns but the absence is quizzical — why jettison even temporarily the most potent resource of the show?
The score is pleasingly varied. Electronic dance music is interspersed with lyrical guitar solos and duets and piano anthems. Onstage musicians, moving about as freely as the Sirens, deepen the palette with elegiac strings.
Although the production is kinetically staged (there’s a Vegas-y kick to D.M. Wood’s lighting), “Kansas City Choir Boy” is ultimately as ephemeral as someone else’s dream.
This could be research that Almond and Love to use to flesh out their project. (The work had its premiere earlier this year at the Prototype Festival in New York.) But I wouldn’t bet on the future of this particular collaborative endeavor.
Committed as she, Love betrays a slight reluctance in her performance, as though she’s not entirely sure she wants to subject herself to the sustained exposure of the theater. Perhaps this is just her character’s tentativeness to return to the realm that she left and then lost for good. But whatever the case, the show’s potential remains unrealized.
‘Kansas City Choir Boy’
Where: Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays, 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays.
Ends Nov. 8.
Tickets: $25 to $99 (Ticket prices subject to change.)
Info: (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org
Running time: One hour, with no intermission