Black Rider Descends on Berkeley


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Courtesy Shotgun Players

What could be cooler than a Tom Waits musical? How about a Tom Waits and William S. Burroughs musical? In 2012, Shotgun Players produced Woyzeck, Georg Büchner’s classic play turned into a musical by visionary director Robert Wilson, with songs by Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan. Directed by acclaimed Bay Area director Mark Jackson with music direction by David Möschler, the Shotgun production was a dark and dazzling delight. Now, Jackson and Möschler reunite for another Wilson/Waits musical extravaganza: The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, with songs by Waits and a libretto by Beat legend Burroughs, author of the seminal Naked Lunch.

First seen locally in Wilson’s jaw-dropping touring production at American Conservatory Theater in 2004, The Black Rider is based on a German folk tale that was also the subject of Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 opera Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter or The Marksman).

Wilhelm is in love, but his true love, Käthchen’s father, is a huntsman who’s not going to approve of a file clerk who can’t shoot. When a guy named Pegleg, who’s pretty obviously the devil, offers him some magic bullets that can’t miss, Wilhelm leaps at the opportunity, even with the stipulation that one of the bullets goes wherever Pegleg pleases. Like most deals with the devil, it doesn’t turn out well.

The fact that Burroughs himself accidentally killed his wife while practicing a “William Tell act” as a drunken party trick, attempting to shoot a drink off her head, lends the fable added resonance, as do Waits’ sinisterly spellbinding songs.

Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets, Nov. 9-Dec. 31, 8 p.m. or 7 p.m. Wed.-Thu.; 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 5 p.m. Sun; Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, $5-$40; 510-841-6500, ShotgunPlayers.org.

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