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Alibi Picks

The Cuckoo Flies Again: ALT stages a crazy classic

In 1962 Ken Kesey wasn’t yet known as a Merry Prankster when his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, groundbreaking for its critical portrayal of a mental institution, launched him from a ’60s acid muncher to the higher pantheon of American letters. For the 85th anniversary of Albuquerque Little Theatre (224 San Pasquale SW), William R. Stafford directs the stage adaptation of the book. Join the crazies and follow the intrigues of Randle P. McMurphyfamously played by Jack Nicholson in the movie versionas he pleads insanity to elude criminal charges and spends a stint in a psychiatric hospital.

We soon wonder which is worsejail or the psych ward? Things get heated as he butts heads with the dominatrix-like Nurse Ratched, who rules the hospital with an iron fist. The action mounts when McMurphy leads the patients into open revolt and all hell breaks loose. It’s a bold look at what defines “insanity” in an uptight society. Who’s crazier, the doctor or the patient? Runs through Sept. 14, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Sundays at 2pm; with a special performance on Thursday, Sept. 11, at 7:30pm. Tickets $12-$22. See albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 242-4750 for more info. Albuquerque Little Theatre • Fri Sep 5 • 7:30pm • $12-$22 • ALL-AGES! • View on Alibi calendar

Alibi Picks

Star-Cross’d Lovers’ Nights: Shakespeare on the Plaza

What is it about Shakespeare’s work that’s so well-suited to summer eves and outdoor performances? Maybe it’s the great Bard’s mellifluous meter or his plays’ timeless knack for capturing the intoxication of young love on blossom-scented nights. Decide for yourself and catch his masterpiece of love and loss performed under the nascent stars. Opening tomorrow at 7:30pm and running Thursday through Sunday for four weeks, the Vortex Theatre presents Romeo and Juliet on the outdoor stage in Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza (400 Marquette NW). It promises good fun for young and old alike as the budding director Billy Trabaudo leads this timeless epic. If you hew more toward the slapstick comedy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that fairy-laden comedy will be running on alternate nights. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students) with Thursday prices rebated to $10 and $5. For more info and scheduling, visit vortexabq.org. Civic Plaza • Fri Jun 20 • 7:30pm • $5-$15 • ALL-AGES! • View on Alibi calendar

Alibi Picks

Nights of Noir: Dead End Nights

Photo by Hannah Levbarg
James Reich wants to tell you about Real Literature.

Teeming with hardboiled private dicks steeped in alcohol and battered by billy clubs, and with lean fedora-clad gumshoes propped in the penumbras of lonely lampposts, casing leggy dames holding dark secrets, the noir genre has obsessed writers and directors from Raymond Chandler to Stanley Kubrick. Think Bogey and Bacall, Spade and Marlowe.

For three Sunday nights, and three nights only, Dead End Nights celebrates these wizened dramas in all their sordid glory with a series of radio plays, lectures and secret screenings of mystery flicks. The series opens Sunday, June 15, with James Reich’s lecture Real Literature of America. Author of the novels Bombshell and I, Judas, Reich is a specialist in the form who’ll share his insights about noir’s influence on modern literature. Opening night also includes the radio play Lugdunum Falls, written and performed by Brianna Stallings and Marya Errin Jones, as well as a screening of an undisclosed B-movie. Head down to Tannex (1417 Fourth Street SW) on this strip of old Route 66 to catch the gigs: June 15, 22 and 29, 6pm. $5. Visit thetannex.com for more info. Tannex • Sun Jun 15 • 6-9:30pm • $5 • ALL-AGES! • View on Alibi calendar

Lit Oblivion

The gods are crazy in Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard

What kind of novel would the Brothers Grimm and William Burroughs conspire to write if they took ayahuascathe South American hallucinogenic jungle brew used by shamans and sought after by drug touristsand parachuted into the darkest African bush? Something resembling Nigerian author Amos Tutuola’s phantasmagoric quest fable The Palm-Wine Drinkard.

When the novel hit the Western literary scene in 1952 it must have seemed conjured from oblivion, totally alien and without precedent. At first glance, it reads as the inverse of modernity, drawing on the rich oral tradition of storytelling, dance and performance of Yoruba mythology, which is as complex and ancient as the Greek myths. Yet Tutuola’s novel is also a modern, post-colonial amalgam shot through with themes of conflict and violence, diaspora and captivity. In light of the current events unfolding in Nigeria with the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls by militants capturing headlines around the world, the book seems strikingly contemporary.

You know you’re in for a trip from the opening lines: “I was a palm-wine drinkard since I was a boy of ten years of age. I had no other work more than to drink palm-wine in my life.” When the palm-wine drinkard’s palm-wine tapster falls from a tree and dies, the narrator sets off in search of his ghost on an adventure of Odyssean proportions. “In those days, there were many wild animals and every place was covered by thick bushes and forests; … and as I was traveling from bushes to bushes and from forests to forests and sleeping inside it for many days and months, I was sleeping on the branches of trees, because spirits etc. were just like partners, and to save myself from them.”

Poet Dylan Thomas’ 1952 review; read more here.
The Guardian
Poet Dylan Thomas’ 1952 review; read more here.

When the book landed in England it caught the attention of Dylan Thomas, who proclaimed that it was written in “new English.” While it certainly strikes the English ear as new, it’s also primordial. Told in the pidgin English of Tutuola’s birthplace, his style morphs the rigidity of standard English into a living language rooted in the oral tradition that is the bedrock of Yoruba culture. “When I travelled with him a distance of about twelve miles away to that market, the gentleman left the really road on which we were traveling and branched into an endless forest and I was following him, but as I did not want him to see that I was following him, then I used one of my juju which changed me into a lizard and followed him.”

The plot follows the narrator as he embarks from his village in search of his tapster and is told in interlocking sections with bizarre titles, like “ON OUR WAY TO THE UNRETURNABLE-HEAVENS TOWN” and “NONE OF THE DEADS TOO YOUNG TO ASSAULT. DEAD BABIES ON THE ROAD-MARCH TO THE DEADS’ TOWN.”

The living skull “monster” embodies the theme of underlying violence, and the Frankensteinian nature of the creatures in the bush, that runs throughout the novel. He’s just the first of many to come.

Early on in the novel, he meets an old man who asks him to find his daughter and return her to him. She disappeared at the market in the company of “a complete gentleman” who turns out to be nothing more than a skull with borrowed limbs. This is the first creature of the bush we are introduced to. And he sets the stage for the bizarre menagerie of spirits, ghouls and ghosts who populate Tutuola’s novel.

In the section “RETURN THE PARTS OF BODY TO THE OWNERS; OR HIRED PARTS OF THE COMPLETE GENTLEMAN TO BE RETURNED,” we read, “As they were traveling along in this endless forest then the complete gentleman in the market that the lady was following began to return the hired parts of his body to the owners and he was paying them rentage money. When he reached the part where he hired the right foot, he pulled it out and gave it to the owner…” This goes on as the “complete gentleman” returns his hands, arms, ribs and so forth, until he’s reduced to a nefarious skull-person who kidnaps the woman and takes her to his home. Thanks to some juju and magic flying, our hero the palm-wine drinkard vanquishes the lady from the evil skull and his family and returns her to her father. In gratitude, the father offers her up as a bride, and she travels with the narrator for the rest of the novel. The living skull “monster” embodies the theme of underlying violence, and the Frankensteinian nature of the creatures in the bush, that runs throughout the novel. He’s just the first of many to come.

At one point in their journey, the couple comes across yet another creature who is as hodgepodge and sinister as the skull. He “was walking towards his back or backwards, his both eyes were on his knees, his both arms were at his both thighs, these both arms were longer than his feet and could reach the topmost of any tree; and he held a long whip too. He was chasing us as we were going on hastily with that whip, so by that time, we started to run for our life, but he was chasing us to and fro in that bush for two hours; he wanted to flog us with that whip.”

Despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges the palm-wine drinkard and his wife encounter on their voyage, either juju (magic) or a benevolent spirit of the bush always saves them. They escape captivity and brutal torture at the hands of the “unknown creatures” of Unreturnable-Heavens Town, and are taken in by the benevolent Faithful-Mother in the White Tree who gives them shelter and all the food and palm-wine they can drink for a year, before sending them off to finish their odyssey with crazy gods and creatures that would make Hieronymus Bosch cringe accosting them every inch of the way.

And today, 62 years after his novel hit the shelves, Tutuola’s protean vision of violence and recuperation warns us that behind our iPhones and Snapchat photos there’s a swirling world of mystery that defies even the most complex Google search algorithma vivid reminder that, thankfully, the gods are crazy.

---

Ian Wolff is a writer living in Albuquerque. He has two self-published collections of prose available online through the iBooks store, and his prose, essays and a film based on one of his short stories can be found at ianzwolff.com.

The Palm Wine Drinkard

(Includes Tutuola’s second novel, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts)
By Amos Tutuola
Paperback, $17
Grove Press
Alibi Picks

The Art of the Matter: Cardiac pop-up show

Elana Schwartz

If home is where the heart is, Cardiac is where the art is. The annual event, now in its third year, was conceived by the Pop-Up Collective. These local artists (Josh Schriber, Jodie Herrera and Angie Poynter) have seized on the concept of collectivism and DIY spaces that's taken root around the world as an alternative venue for undiscovered artists. Tomorrow, seven local visual artists working in a range of media gather for a one-night pop-up gala and fundraiser for the Heart Hospital of New Mexico at the reimagined industrial space West Bund West (217 Kinley NW). Look for Herrera’s stark pop-influenced paintings on wood that capture the female form sans sentimentality, and the eerie, human-animal hybrid wood sculptures of Elana Schwartz. They’re joined by Schriber, a painter in acrylic on steel; Joel Davis, whose tile work creates earthy, figurative mosaics; Kate Burn, a photographer; Poynter, a painter; and Lance Ryan McGoldrick, who builds installations. The evening is sustained with libations and snacks from the New York Pizza Department, and the atmosphere is enhanced by DJ Boojaloo and Haldyon. Welcome home. West Bund West • Sat May 17 • 6-11pm • FREE • ALL-AGES! • View on Alibi calendar

Jodie Herrera
Lit Oblivion

The mind-bending imagination of Felisberto Hernández’ Lands of Memory

Felisberto Hernández is one of the rare writers who, through the sheer strength of their imagination, can rewire your brain and melt your perception of reality. I first came across his name years ago in an essay by Roberto Bolaño where he reminisces about authors who were important to him in his youth yet eventually fell into oblivion. And when I read Hernandez’ Lands of Memory, a collection of stories by the Uruguayan author originally published in 1942, it blew my mind.

Despite his decades of obscurity (Lands of Memory wasn’t published in English until 2002, and even in Latin America he remained mostly unread outside elite literary circles), Hernández was a huge influence on several important writers who championed him over the years. In the US, Francine Prose was an early advocate, and wrote the preface for a reissue of another collection of his, Piano Stories. Gabriel García Márquez admitted, “If I hadn’t read the stories of Felisberto Hernández in 1950, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.” And Italo Calvino wrote in 1973, “Hernández is a writer like no other: like no European, nor any Latin American. He is an ‘irregular’ who eludes all classification and labeling, yet is unmistakable on any page to which one might randomly open one of his books.”

Felisberto Hernández
Felisberto Hernández

This “irregularity” might explain his obscurity (and the difficulty categorizing him), but it doesn’t excuse it. Lands of Memory, a mind-bending collection of four short stories and two novellas, confounds what we think we know about reality. Hernández was a pianist who played the smaller concert halls of Uruguay and Argentina, and gave recitals and private performances. His life as a pianist and the human interactions therein inform his work and serve as a foil for the strange abstractions that riddle the prose, as if life itself were an improvised tune full of eerie modulations. In a passage from the opening story, “Around the time of Clemente Colling,” the young narrator is visiting “the long-lived ladies,” three elderly sisters whose nephew was a piano prodigy. “The mystery of that place wasn’t crouched in shadows or in silence. It lay, rather, in certain turns, rhythms or bends that suddenly took the conversation to places that didn’t seem to be part of reality.”

Pianos and performances recur regularly throughout the stories. The narrator might be taking lessons from an eccentric piano teacher whose house becomes a kind of living museum, or serving as a personal musician for a crazy wealthy lady. The hulking instrument might be passive: “The big, black grand piano, like a somnolent old animal crouched on its thick paws, meekly endured the hands that slammed down on its yellow teeth and filled its innards with loud noises.” Or dangerous: “I would try to hang onto that piano as if I were fishing and had caught a shark. Who knew what might happen! Perhaps shark and audience would both be disconcerted by my audacity.”

[Hernández’] life as a pianist and the human interactions therein inform his work and serve as a foil for the strange abstractions that riddle the prose, as if life itself were an improvised tune full of eerie modulations.

The physical world in Hernández’ prose is strangely fluid, with objects taking on a life of their own. It’s as if the physical world has traded places with memory, which, as the title of the collection suggests, takes a central role in the stories, and memory itself becomes the solid form of reality. “Around the Time of Clemente Colling” revolves around the young narrator and a blind piano teacher with bad hygiene who serves as his mentor. In one passage, “The memories come, but they don’t keep still. And some very foolish memories clamor for attention, too. I don’t yet know whether, despite their childishness, these have some important connection to the other memories, or what meanings and reflections memories exchange among themselves. Some seem to protest the selection the intellect claims to make among them.”

In “The Crocodile,” a story about a stocking salesman who finds that his uncontrollable crying jags boost sales, a concerned proprietor of a store where the narrator is making a tearful sales pitch, says, “But compañero, a man’s got to have some spirit.” The narrator replies, “I’m fine, really. I have lots of spirit! It’s just that sometimes this comes over me; it’s like a memory … ”

Finally, in the title story, which concludes the collection, we get a glimpse at the dynamic that fuels Hernández’ narrative. “I was disappointed … by what had happened between my body and me as a result of the performance of a piece of music. At no time could I dismount from my body. And this forced coexistence exposed me to all sorts of risks. I certainly didn’t want to be rid of [my body] or even to neglect it … and my body was also what furnished me with the comforts I needed in order to penetrate the mysteries to which my imagination was drawn.”

It’s that tug of war between mind and body, the imaginary and the mundane, the present fixed world and the fluid landscape of memory that defines Hernández. And thankfully for us, the strength of his creativity saved him from oblivion.

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Ian Wolff is a writer living in Albuquerque. He has two self-published collections of prose available online through the iBooks store, and his prose, essays and a film based on one of his short stories can be found at ianzwolff.com.

Lands of Memory

By Felisberto Hernández
Paperback, $16.95
New Directions
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