2001.12.08 — PEEKreview — review of Bud: The Musical

—from PEEKreview 2001.12.08:

Bud: The Musical

By D.S. Bakker & Lorraine L. Whittlesey

November 2, 2001

Creative Alliance – 
413 S. Conkling Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21244

by Beth Secor

Common sense advises against writing about friends’ art; if you don’t like the work, you find yourself in a moral quandary, running the risk of either alienating your friend or lying so as not to lose said friend. Dave Bakker is my friend and I find myself in a fortuitous situation: I like his work.

Last week my friend Sarah and I went to see Dave and his — his what? his mannequin? his creation? his alter ego? his somewhat taciturn friend? — Bud in “Bud: The Musical” at the Fells Point Creative Alliance. I have never been to the Creative Alliance before, much to my own loss. I moved to Baltimore in January and have been reticent to venture out on my own, as I suffer from occasional shyness coupled with acute middle age. When we drove up to the Alliance last Friday I still had my reservations, which were in turn loudly confirmed by some random man violently hurling the contents of his stomach onto the street, or more accurately onto the fender of the car parked at the parking meter that he leaned upon. I suspected he was drunk, and as it was yet not quite 7 p.m., he still had plenty of time to become drunk and intensely ill again, before he decided to call it a night.

Fortunately Mr. Puke was not a harbinger of things to come. I liked the Alliance the second I walked in the door, it reminded me of home, that home being Houston. I lived in Houston, Texas so many, many years that it is only natural and quite possibly, repetitive and annoying, that I compare everything in Baltimore to everything back home. People grow sick of me saying, “In Houston, strangers greeted you on the street. In Houston, we held our forks such and such a way. In Houston I didn’t know anybody that was a heroin addict. In Houston, I was crowned the Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” You catch my drift.

Any city that can boast a place like the Creative Alliance is lucky. The staff is smart, down to earth, and community minded; the programming of the Alliance reflects these sensibilities. I liked the ambiance of the place too, it felt entirely comfortable: a good looking exhibit — which much to my chagrin I did not take time to look at carefully since maybe I was trying to get as far away as possible from the puker as humanly possible — greeted you at the door; old couches, decidedly the choice seats, lined the perimeter of the performance area; Dave Bakker’s kids spun around in chairs near the stage and Megan Hamilton sat eating what looked to be fried rice at the bar. When the audience poured/trickled/streamed in from the street (did you ever notice that audiences are always doing water-like things?) I was delighted to realize that I actually knew seven people — which is a big deal considering I never go anywhere and I’ve only been here for a year.

Bud’s musical was preceded by Michael Rossman, a vaudevillian who must get sick of people telling him he looks like Chris Kattan of Saturday Night Live and Corky Ramano fame. As far as jugglers/sleight of hand artists go he was good and pretty funny. I imagine its harder than it seems to keep one’s comic timing while simultaneously juggling knives and standing on top of a teetering board balanced on top of a bowling ball. I admire jugglers or any one who can hold a knife, much less juggle three, without looking like they are trying to reenact the eye-gouging scene in Oedipus Rex or say, King Lear. I can’t get near an embroidery needle without severing a limb, so kudos to you Michael. I donÍt know what else to say here out of ignorance. In my limited experience I judge a juggler, employing relatively simple criteria: either he drops his knives or he doesn’t, falls off the platform or not, cracks my skull with a bowling ball or doesn’t hurt me at all.

And now on to Bud. I like Bud. Bud is somebody we human beings need so very desperately — a slightly silly, inanimate, goodwill ambassador to the world. Lately we’ve are witnessed too much in the realm of human stupidity and hatefulness. For example: what was up with that idiotic guy in Atlanta who forgot his camera bag and because he was afraid he was going to be late for a stupid football game, ran through the security checkpoints and caused the entire Atlanta airport to shutdown, simply out of his own petty, selfish needs? We donÍt need that kind of crap! We need Bud snorkeling in his dress suit! We need Bud without gloves in Alaska! We need Bud sharing a Popsicle with his buddy Ronnel in Fiji. Bud is so selfless: he doesn’t even eat the Popsicle, and better yet — doesn’t complain when it dribbles on his suit! We need to be more like Bud and less like the dummy missing his plane.

I really liked the photographs of Bud. I was honestly afraid these photos would look staged and stilted or even commonplace. I was afraid of this because I have seen photographs of other inanimate objects placed in geographical settings. I remotely recall somebody who took pictures of a bust of Beethoven in settings all over the world. They were poorly photographed, had bad compositions and were just plain boring. Dave’s photos of Bud are different. They are beautifully composed. There is something very haunting, very sad and yet very silly about them; all this combined pulls them out of what might have become a pit of sentimentality. These images are ephemeral, wisps of faulty memories mixed with fragments of indelible dreams.

I have a friend Al who is a photographer and he photographs people as though he were in love with every one of them. The people in Al’s photographs are seen through the eyes of a lover — they are radiant, beautiful, precious. Dave photographs people as though he was inordinately fond of them — these people look like someone we would want to know, or perhaps we already know and like immensely. They are funny, warm-hearted, charming and nice. We don’t perceive them through the eyes of a xenophobe – rather we perceive these foreigners as being very much like us — people who eat Popsicles and who love their families and who smile when they are happy.

“Bud: The Musical” was charming. Dave’s 7 year old son, John played the opening guitar solo, entitled “His name is Bud”, a piece by Lorraine Whittlesly, who also wrote the other songs in the musical. John is in the second grade and has been playing the guitar since he was in kindergarten. He is a very confidant young man. While he played, he sat up as straight as you can while you play a guitar and looked the audience full in the face. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he said he thought about what a good job he was going to do. This is good; this is what you should think John. I also asked John if he had to chose between the power of flight and the power of invisibility which would he chose and he choose invisibility so that he could sneak into his sister Anna’s room. I would chose flight so that I could get away from everyone and so I could go on vacations quickly, with the least amount of hassle, fear and inspection.

I liked Dave’s narrative. It was straightforward, succinct, nonpretentious. It gave me as much information as I needed about the photographs and Bud. I did not like the bell at the beginning of the musical that punctuated sentences and that was suppose to simulate the bell in airplanes that signifies when it’s the appropriate time to run around the cabin threatening every one with a bag of peanuts, for those that are peanut intolerant. Mercifully the bell seemed to bug the participants and they stopped ringing it after a while. Another thing that bugged me was the German accent that David Crandall chose to use during the “Dave Bakker in psychotherapy” scene. During the rehearsal before the show started that evening (I accidentally got to the Alliance an hour and 1/2 early), David used a perfectly acceptable German accent — in other words, it sounded German and I could understand every word he said. Then, inexplicably during the actual performance, he switched over to some weird accent that sounded like a Norwegian academic poet with a mouth full of noodles and chocolate pudding rendering everything he said completely unintelligible.

Since “Bud: The Musical” was indeed a musical, it had music, performed and written by Lorraine, sometimes accompanied by Dave and sometimes by Joe and sometimes by both of them. Lorraine L. Whittlesey is an accomplished composer and current Artist-In-Residence at Western Maryland College. IÍve been told, and I think this is great, that Lorraine, has often collaborated with members of the Baltimore community on performances; performances which get these other artists to think about and to approach their own work in new and different ways. I mean seriously, who would have even conceived of Bud — a mannequin, made of fiberglass and wood pulp and paint, as the subject of an entire musical? (And with that in mind, who would have thought of the small, left over man-tool of a transsexual as the stuff of musicals and movies and a high volume c.d.?) I certainly wouldn’t have.

Throughout the play, every scene was punctuated by Joe Wall’s successively sillier and sillier, facetious airline attendant banter. I thought these segments were good and funny. Joe also performed as a living, breathing personification of Bud — in part when Dave gave a little background information about the mannequin, and then during a dream sequence. Again he was very, very funny, but in this case — no offense to Joe or anyone else — I found a personification of Bud unnecessary and disturbing. Call me a purist — but I don’t want to know what Bud is thinking or dreaming. I want to imagine that Bud is one with the universe, not see him vogueing on stage. It’s like when you find out your president does weird things with cigars. YouÍre sad — you can’t ever look at presidents or cigars the same again. Well maybe IÍm over reacting. Joe up there vogueing or the thought of Bud speaking in a voice that sounds like somebody has been huffing laughing gas, isnÍt really disturbing. I mean, seriously, — couldn’t I find something more world shaking to complain about, i.e. the inappropriateness of appointing not-a-doctor Tommy Thompson as the Secretary of Health and Human Services in these times of anthrax and small pox and bubonic plaque?

To me, the most wonderful part of the evening was seeing the video outtakes of Bud in Africa. Bud riding feet first in dingy down a swamp, staring vacantly into the sky; Dave posing Bud for a shot, followed by Bud falling headlong into the mud. These pieces were great; they were like home movies from the sixties, taken by technically adept adults who managed to maintain their sense of silliness and play. I think Dave should do a whole evening of these, and despite the fact that I’m middle age and like to lay on the couch with a book and my dog I’d somehow manage the where withal to get out and go see what could very well be called “Bud: The Movie.” After you make the movie Dave, I think you should then have it distributed internationally. Do this Dave. Just think of the effect it could have on everyone. You might very well save the world.