By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Kelly, a teacher, was granted a leave of absence by his school and went to Amsterdam to research the life of Brood, a man he had not heard of until Nodler put the bug in his ear. There Kelly was struck full in the face by the magnitude of the role he had been entrusted with. In Holland, literally every single person knows who Brood was — he is known as the Dutch Elvis. And Kelly had to walk lightly around the performer's friends, all while asking many personal questions about a tragedy that was still fresh in their minds. "I was trying really hard not to be an idiot and to be sensitive to where they are coming from," he says.
Kelly adds that it is always hard to do justice to an icon. "There's a pretty well-known biopic of Herman out there, and most of the people I talked to didn't like it. So how do you pull that off? How do you pull off the movie about Jim Morrison or anybody else of that mythical stature?"
There's a prominent role for a Black Francis character, too, and again, Nodler dipped into the same well he himself emerged from: the 1990s Houston rock scene centered on the Axiom, which guided his selection of former dead horse front man Michael Haaga for the Black Francis role.
That Haaga had not acted since he was a child did not faze Nodler at all. Using untrained actors has always been a hallmark of his productions, ever since In The Under Thunderloo, his first, in which Matt Kelly spoke the very first line.
Nodler says the casting process of Bluefinger has been very similar to that of his first show. "When I was a much younger man, even though I worked in theater, I thought theater was bullshit," he says. "I was writing plays for people who might rather be in a bar drinking, so I cast virtually the whole show with local musicians, very few of whom had any acting experience."
Puffing on a smoke outside of DiverseWorks during a break from rehearsals, Haaga says that the Pixies' Doolittle is still in his regular rotation, and that he loves the music from the Bluefinger concept album, especially Black Francis's poppy tune "Discotheque 36." Haaga has a world of respect for the chrome-domed Thompson's skills on the mike: "The fucker can scream better than I did in dead horse!" he says, and notes that Thompson's alternating between screaming and then mellow singing is similar to his own on his psychedelic 2006 power-pop masterpiece The Plus and Minus Show album.
Nevertheless, Haaga says he never dreamed he would one day be portraying Black Francis in a play. He says he's not that nervous about it, at least not about the role per se, but there is one thing he is regarding with fear and loathing right now, one that at first seemed like a selling point. "I've always wanted to shave my head," he says, but as the date with the clippers loomed, he was not so sure. "Now I am scared shitless."
Haaga's not the only one who's had to shave his head for this production. Brood's manager Vin Dijk had a shaved head, too, so Troy Schulze had to submit to the shears as well (see "Bluefinger: The Bald Truth").
In the converted bungalow near the Menil that houses Catastrophic's office and also serves as a practice space, actors portraying Brood's widow Xandra (Mikelle Johnson), art dealer Ivo De Lange (Kyle Sturdivant), Van Dijk (Schulze), and his biographer (Matt Carter) are rehearsing a scene in which they dissect Brood's life. They talk about how the man's music was his religion, about how he rehearsed his suicidal leap by bungee jumping, about how because he lived so hard he was really 108 and not 54 at his death, about how he considered himself the world champion at cunnilingus, about whether or not he ever really loved his widow, and about his R. Kelly-like predilection for teenage girls.
Suddenly the scene grinds to a halt after Sturdivant stage-whispers something in Johnson's ear that causes her to practically fall out of her chair laughing.
"I'm sorry," she says, regaining some of her composure. "Kyle just told me that Troy should be wearing a condom on his head."
The scene goes on, with Nodler taking out lines here, instructing Schulze to be more jittery there, refining the actors' motivation, getting at the truth as he sees it.
As for Thompson, he feels he's said all he has to say about Brood. The head Pixie's obsession with Brood has not lingered beyond the album — which he says he wrote in a frenzy — and its aftermath. Though he dropped in on a very early rehearsal at DiverseWorks, he says he hasn't read the scripts of the play Nodler has sent his way. As he is not a theater director, he says he doesn't feel like it's his place to weigh in, and once Nodler picked up the mantle, Thompson says that his work was done.
The stakes are very high. Thanks to the success of Speeding Motorcycle, Nodler's name alone draws recognition, as of course does the Pixie dust surrounding that of Thompson's many monikers. Advance word of the play's progress can be found not just in Dutch and English, but also every other Romance and Germanic language, not to mention Greek, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Mandarin and Japanese.