A song for Burroughs

Queer, a world premiere operatic adaptation of William Burroughs' autobiographical novel of the same name, has everything going for it. First and foremost, it has Burroughs' tale of sex and drugs in Mexico City and his jazzy, luring stream-of-consciousness language. It has creator Erling Wold, whose last chamber opera, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil, enchanted audiences with its music and surreal images. And it has a live five-piece ensemble and choreography by Cid Pearlman. All this would seem fit for Burroughs' disjointed world of sexual desire and heroin ]withdrawal. Yet Queer falls short of the mark.

Part of the reason lies in the complexities of adaptation. Wold and his co-librettist, John Morace, lifted choice passages from the novel verbatim — what would seem a good decision with material so rich. The story of William Lee and his unfulfilled gay desire emerges from the non-narrative structure in the bars and hot streets of Mexico City. Unfortunately, the downside of staying true to the original text is that Lee tells his own story in the third person. The resulting “Lee said … and then Allerton said …” style means that the other actors spend much of the first act standing around. The role of Lee is a tour de force for Trauma Flintstone, who sings wonderfully and finds the nuances of the language, but he is overworked. Except for a few scenes, he doesn't consistently portray a man desperate for contact and addicted to junk. Add the curiously static staging and Wold's minimalist music to Burroughs' jazz-inspired text, and Queer steers too far from its surreal origins. In the last few scenes Pearlman's choreography redeems the piece somewhat, mirroring Lee's lust with seductive dancers (Zenón Barrón, Norberto Martinez, and Stacey Em Jackson). Lee joins them, seamlessly crossing from reality to dream, creating beautiful moments that should have been there from the beginning.

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