Title: Woyzeck To Run At Freud Playhouse
Source: Daily Bruin (USA), by Andrew Lee. December 3, 2002. Transcription as published on UCLA Daily Bruin (� 2002, ASUCLA Student Media)
Date: Telephone interview November/ December, 2002
Key words: Woyzeck/ Blood Money, Theatre, Robert Wilson




Wilson's collaboration with Waits brings modern, anachronistic aspects to play.

When UCLA Performing Arts announced the lineup for the 2002-2003 season, nothing stood as a more obvious testament to the program's reach toward the cutting edge than "Woyzeck,"(1) a fragmented play by director Robert Wilson which starts its run at the Freud Playhouse tomorrow(2).

But in spite of consistent labeling of the production as "modern," throwing songwriter Tom Waits into the equation gives it a distinctly anachronistic dimension. Waits' music is infamous for including ancient and long-forgotten instruments and styles, and the collaboration between him and wife Kathleen Brennan to write music for "Woyzeck" follows the same path.

"I'm not sure I know what modern is," Waits said over the phone from his home in Sonoma County. "I guess maybe 'Woyzeck' is (modern) in the sense that they found all these bits and pieces of the play and stitched them together like a collage. Maybe that did push it into the modern world; it wasn't written or ultimately produced in the same way other pieces are."

Wilson and Waits have collaborated together before, beginning with a play Waits wrote in the early '80s called "Frank's Wild Years."(3) The two met later at a coffee shop and discussed working together on "Woyzeck," a piece written in 1837 and left unfinished by playwright Georg B�chner.

They took the work and reimagined it, and the final product is a disjointed piece that eschews linear narrative for a more abstract meditation on themes Waits labels as "duplicity, jealousy, rage and murder."

"This was considered one of the first proletariat operas, in that it dealt with the working class," Waits said. "So that was attractive to me."

The story revolves around a soldier who undergoes medical experimentation prior to going mad and murdering his girlfriend. The music that accompanies "Woyzeck" - which was released last year by Waits as the album "Blood Money" - is appropriately nightmarish, akin to a fever dream inside a claustrophobic's head.

A combination of broken carnival music, woozy New Orleans jazz and even tender ballads, Waits accentuates the surreal atmosphere with the use of calliope and stroh violin(4), among a sea of other instruments. Waits' gravelly voice is the representation of an outsider, a drunken rambler who sings of despair and loss in a voice that carries a tinge of rage. In a particularly memorable line in the opening track, Waits barks "Misery is the river of the world/ Everybody row!"

It's a role Waits has played before, but never has his music been wrapped inside such a suffocating production, giving the sound a dusty surface and further evoking the dementia that lies mired inside. The music may be modern, but it doesn't sound modern.

"I guess I like old records because they sound like they're struggling to reach you," Waits said. "Have you ever heard a record and if it's got scratches on it, if it's too far away, or if you're in between stations on the radio, does it ever really affect the performance? It doesn't. It makes you listen harder, so you have to work. You're reaching in, like if you get a phone call from far away."

Waits embraces the interference of the world. He likes it when three radios are on at the same time. He likes to record with the door open. Yet in spite of his oddball proclivities regarding music, Waits has gradually gained mainstream recognition and respect - his album "Mule Variations" won a Grammy in 1999(5).

But he's too left-field to be universally appreciated, and that outsider role is something he shares with director Wilson, whose landmark work "Einstein on the Beach" remains among composer Philip Glass' most well-known musical contributions. A production of that work will make its way to UCLA in late 2004.

"I know that Wilson, regardless of where he goes, is kind of a loose cannon," Waits said. "Within the theater world people either think he's a visionary, or they think he's a gorilla. And he's wired with explosives. But he's important because he takes chances and I think it's healthy for theater and opera that he's around, hanging out of a truck with a shotgun, taking shots at stop signs."

It's clear "Woyzeck" isn't conventional L.A. theater; it barely fits into the conservative American theater scene. But the combined vision of the two artists has resulted in a product that's as vaguely familiar as much as it's entirely alien.

"Wilson, he's always playing with time," Waits said. "I heard a recording recently of crickets slowed way down. It sounds like a choir, it sounds like angel music. Something sparkling, celestial with full harmony and bass parts - you wouldn't believe it. It's like a sweeping chorus of heaven, and it's just slowed down, they didn't manipulate the tape at all.

"So I think when Wilson slows people down, it gives you a chance to watch them moving through space," he said. "And there's something to be said for slowing down the world."

"Woyzeck" appears at the Freud Playhouse from Dec. 3 to 15. Tickets are $70, $20 for students.


(1) Woyzeck, further reading: Woyzeck full story

(2) Freud Playhouse tomorrow: December 03-15, 2002. Freud Playhouse (UCLA Live): Los Angeles/ USA (performed in English)

(3) Franks Wild Years, Further reading: Franks Wild Years full story

(4) Stroh violin: a violin with a brass horn appendage. Tom Waits (2002): "The Stroh is a violin with a horn attached to the bridge. And you know, you're aiming at the balcony and it was designed before amplification so the string players could compete with hornplayers in the orchestra pit." Q: And it's a very rare instrument, I was reading? Tom Waits: "They still make 'em. You know, you can get 'em out of a catalogue. But they're no longer as popular as they were, but they were essential and there were probably fist fights in the orchestra pit before the Stroh. Cause now a lot of people consider 'em obsolete but hey, when I see the word obsolete I get in line." (Source: "Interview with Tom Waits". Triple J's 2002 (Australia) radio show hosted by Richard Kingsmill. Date: Telephone interview. Aired: May 12, 2002)

(5) Mule Variations won a Grammy in 1999: February 24, 2000 Waits is awarded the Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy for Mule Variations. This is his second Grammy (Alternative Album Grammy for Bone Machine in 1992).