TANGLED UP IN BOB
THE TITLE OF BENITO DI FONZO'S LATEST PLAY IS QUITE A MOUTHFUL: THE CHRONIC ILLS OF BOB ZIMMERMAN: AKA BOB DYLAN (A LIE) – A THEATRICAL TALKING BLUES AND GLISSENDORF. IT'S A TITLE THAT'S AS ENIGMATIC AS THE SUBJECT OF THE PLAY. LEE BEMROSE CAUGHT UP WITH WITH THE WORDSMITH BEHIND THE PLAY.
A shorter version of the play had a brief but successful run in Sydney before it was extended to its current one hour and taken to The Adelaide Fringe Festival. Adelaide audiences have been loving it with reviews from critics and punters alike being pretty damned enthusiastic. The thumbs have been unanimously up. Well almost unanimously.
“We've only had one negative review,” Di Fonzo says casually, possibly enjoying this one negative one as much as the postive ones. “We've had no paying customers ever think it was anything short of brilliant, but we had this industry showcase and we invited some producer from America and he was confused and possibly offended by the fact that we had Abraham Lincoln speaking Yiddish like Lenny Bruce. I think he thought we were disrespecting... I'm not sure who he thought we were disrespecting. But Bob Dylan's father was Abraham Zimmerman who did speak Yiddish as his first language, so it all makes perfect sense.”
Yes, perfect sense.
The play came about after Di Fonzo read Dylan's Chronicles 1, the first in a planned three part autobiography. He was fascinated by what was going on in those pages and immediately re-read it. When asked to contribute a short play to the Short & Sweet festival, he really wanted to do something Dylanesque, fascinated as he was by the self-mythologisation contained in Chronicles as well as the style it was written in – described by Di Fonzo as more Kerouac than Kerouac.
But Chronic Ills is no straight bio. Indeed, as the title would suggest, it's a little difficult to get your head around just what the play is. First and foremost, Chronic Ills is by all accounts (excluding that of the confused American producer) very funny. It has emerged from reality but is very fictional, following, as it does, the journey of our hero as he encounters some of those figures who have been most influential to him: Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jesus Christ and more. The characterisations have been lauded as hilarious (Lennon dopleganger John Waters of Glass Onion fame even had a hand in nurturing the John Lennon character into believability)... and yet it's not quite a pisstake either. Not completely. Dylan and Co are treated fondly... somewhat.
Naturally, dealing with one of the most influential musicians of modern times, there has to be music. There is a double bass, a ukelele and a theremin (naturally) as well as around a dozen or so songs or fragments of songs. But settle all you Dylan haters – due to issues with rights there is no sign of Blowin' In The Wind or Tangled Up In Blue. Rather there are numbers that Dylan performed and recorded, but none that he wrote.
But Chronic Ills is not a musical either. Well it is. Sort of.
“If you look at one of the subtitles,” Di Fonzo explains, “you'll see it's 'a theatrical talking blues'. Talking blues pieces are basically stories spoken while someone plays blues under it, so it's almost like one long piece of music. It's a classic folk tradition, so it's like a one hour song, in a way.”
You've probably made it this far thinking uh-huh, okay, but what the hell's a Glissendorf? I would say Google it but this will only add to the confusion... in fact no, Google it. Have fun with that.
There are enough Dylan references in the script to keep the Bobcats busy Bobspotting, as well as enough broader humour to keep the rest of us laughing. One can only wonder what the man himself would make of it.
WHAT: The Chronic Ills Of Bob Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie) – A Theatrical Talking Blues and Glissendorf
WHERE & WHEN: Old Fitzroy, Woolloomooloo from April 7
Photographer: Jen Hamilton