By Charles Bukowski; Directed by Austin McCormick

 Laura Careless in Lover.Muse.Mockingbird.Whore. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

BOTTOM LINE: A mesmerizing, visual treat that manages to transfer the emotional conflict of Bukowski's work, Women, into dance.

"All I’ve ever known are pill freaks, alcoholics, whores, ex-prostitutes, madwomen. When one leaves another arrives worse than her predecessor. “Don’t ever bring a whore around,” I tell my few friends, “I’ll fall in love with her.” -Charles Bukowski

Dancing to poetry does not sound like an easy task, and yet Company XIV pulls this off seamlessly with Lover.Muse.Mockingbird.Whore, creating a compelling dance performance out of Charles Bukowski's work, Women. Austin McCormick's production looks beyond the work's tones of misogyny and disrespect, fully fleshing out key female figures and expressing their emotional and sexual states. The work pulls from Bukowski's text four female figures: the ever allusive Scarlett, the woman at the center of 'I'm In Love," the "green antelope" from "18 Cars Full of Men Thinking of What Could Have Been," and a voluptuous blonde, who seems to receive the majority of Bukowski's hate-tinged desire.

The work opens with Bukowski's real voice narrating, which transfers seamlessly to actor Jeff Takacs who convincingly embodies the poet in appearance, speech, and mannerisms. Takacs begins by reading lines from Women that narrate the movement of dancer Laura Careless within a rectangle outlined by flurorescent lighting, a stylistic choice that evokes the blue collar, dive bar tone of much of Bukowski's work. Careless clutches forward to the air only to slip backward, conveying the love and affection the women of Bukowski's poems never seem to fully grasp. Takacs moves from the theater floor to a windowed room at the far left corner of the stage, which, through half-closed blinds we view Bukowski's apartment, replete with a bathtub, toilet, bed and red sofa. The character of Bukowski gazes voyeuristically at the woman on the stage, peering through the blinds with beer in hand. He sometimes delivers his lines while stretched out in the tab, or crouched at the edge of a chair, peeking out through the blinds with trepidation. His image is super-imposed in black and white against the blinds, and then later against the wall. Through this clever staging, we see Bukowski both as an observer and as a participant in the lives of the damaged women he attracts. 

The vermillion haired Careless soon takes on the role of Scarlett, a woman who seems to always slip away from Bukowski, never allowing him to fully satisfy his lust for her. Just as they are about to physically consumate their desire, Scarlett slips on a bright red trench coat, leaving him but then requesting bright red heels, showing that she may return. Through her movements Careless fully conveys both the strength and weakness Bukowski's women experience by expressing their sexuality. While Scarlett initially uses her sexuality as way to tease and manipulate the poet, it also leads to humilation and she finds herself waiting hours for a man that never comes to her.

Against the back of the stage sits a glass cabinet displaying various wigs sitting atop mannequin heads. As the women depicted within the poetry change, so does Careless's haircolor, as she selects a wig from the cabinet to embody differing characters. In one pivotal scene, Careless dons a blonde wig to embody the woman Bukowski takes to the race track: a blonde that is all "ass and breast" hardly anything else. Careless pours a sack of gravel across the stage which she later slips and falls upon, serving to convey the depravity and destruction present in her intercourse with Bukowski. Takacs narrates the scene with the lines:"that night I couldn’t destroy her/ although the springs shot sparks / and they pounded on the walls," conveying the tinges of hate and violence present in their sexual act. Careless conveys fully a woman on the verge of self-destruction with every intentional stumble and wobble.

Takacs later joins Careless on the stage floor, no longer confined to his role as the voyeuristic narrator. Their movements together reflect the power struggle inherent between Bukowski and each of his women, physically conveying the poet's conflicted view of the fairer sex. He first pushes Careless into a submissive position, showing creulty in his movement. Later they embrace and Bukowski shows the affection he usually hides. Finally, Careless takes on a position of power over Bukowski, standing precariously on his back, as if unsure as to how long she can maintain the upperhand.

The piece concludes with Careless dancing on the stage alone, her movements again showing her grasping for something she can never fully grab hold of. As she moves a recording plays: "I've lived long enough to become a good woman, why do you need a bad woman? You need to be tortured, don't you? You think life is rotten if somebody treats you rotten it all fits, doesn’t it? tell me, is that it? Do you want to be treated like a 
piece of shit?"

Her lines offer closure to Bukowski's conflicting views of women, showing that his hatred and fear of true affection stem in fact from a hatred of himself rather than simply a hatred of women. Lover.Muse.Mockingbird.Whore succeeds thoroughly in exploring and illuminating the stark and conflicted words of Bukowski, offering a broad view of the poet. McCormick conveys Bukowski's emotional struggles fully through his choreography.

(Lover.Muse.Mockingbird.Whore plays at 303 Bond Street Theater, 303 Bond Street Brooklyn, through May 8, 2011. Performances are Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 8PM and Sundays at 8PM. Tickets are $30 and are available at or by calling 800.838.3006.)