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The real and the unusual create a lively week of theater

By Gretchen Giles

Sonoma County theater lovers face an embarrassment of riches this week as two very diverse entertainments breeze into the area. Former Sonoma State University Professor Fred Curchack flies in from Dallas to preview his latest one-man show, The Comeback of Freddy Chickan, an absurdist meditation on celebrity in America described variously as part mystery, comedy, improvisation, musical–and the list goes on. And on a more serious note, actor Adilah Barnes is bringing her one-woman show I Am That I Am: Woman, Black to SSU for a one-night-only evening of time travel through history as she embodies the souls of seven women.

Fred Curchack answers the phone and immediately launches into his Freddy Chickan voice–which during these days of rehearsal appears to be a mite bit uncontrollable. “It’s a catenation of facts,” he says of his work in a loud, mouthy Brooklyn-meets-the-West Coast accent. A sequel to The Inquest for Freddy Chickan, last performed by Curchack a decade ago, Comeback traces this fictional superstar of stage, screen, and TV as he implodes onstage and disappears, a victim–plain and simple–of physics.

“Freddy Chickan becomes a black hole,” Curchack–whose own surname means chicken in Polish–says triumphantly. “I was reading a physics book some years ago, and read that [a black hole is] a star that’s burned out and begins to suck everything into itself, and I began to think about the image of what happens to the consciousness of spectators when they’re watching anything–certainly live performance–and certainly in watching the flow of phenomena in normal life.”

Playing every role himself with the energy of a madman, Curchack traces the cult of personality that grows up around American pop culture performers. “It’s pure fiction, but since I’m inquiring into the search for persona, why not use my own?” Curchack muses. “Underneath all of these layers of persona lies the persona who is me. Everything that happens in the show is a playful attempt to reflect reality back at the audience. As with Shakespeare,” he laughs, “this is not a new thing.”

The Comeback of Freddy Chickan plays Friday-Saturday, Feb. 9-10, at 8 p.m. Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North, Petaluma. $6-$10. 763-8920.

Life Defined by Race

“This is really where my passion lies, because the work that I do is really a calling,” Adilah Barnes–who has played the recurring role of Anne Marie on the Roseanne show for four years–says softly by phone from her Los Angeles home. “I call it edu-tainment, because it’s inspiring and informing.”

Begun with a grant from the city of Los Angeles to bring diversion to nursing-home residents, I Am That I Am has evolved as a teaching piece that moves and ministers primarily now to a college audience. In a mixture of poetry, song, living history, and political awareness, Barnes has created a loop of lives lived that surrounds her. “I really wanted to go full circle, to begin with those women who came before me and then to circle around to those who are here today,” she says.

Beginning with freed slave Sojourner Truth, Barnes travels the African American female experience, with portrayals of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, writer Zora Neale Hurston, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, radical activist-turned-college professor Angela Davis, and poet Maya Angelou. Barnes also illuminates the lives of lesser-known women like Mary McLeod Bethune, who was so close to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Barnes says that Bethune was known as “The Second Lady,” founding an all-female school for African American women that is now Bethune-Cookman College.

Does Barnes ever feel restricted by her decision to signify a life defined by race? “I can only portray African-American woman and be truthful,” she answers thoughtfully. “Perhaps one day we’ll get to the point where anyone can play anyone. But for the work that I do, it just makes sense to portray those whom I care about and respect. I feel very honored to be a vessel, to portray these women, because they all have contributed so much to the tapestry of our American culture.”

I Am That I Am: Woman, Black plays once only, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 8 p.m. at Sonoma State University, in the Warren Auditorium, 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. Tickets are $5-$8. 664-2382.

From the Feb. 8-14, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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