Karen Black - Photographed By Evan Sung

Written by Jessica Cogan

Show biz rule #1: "Always leave 'em wanting more." Karen Black took that to heart in a recent New York visit, offering audiences a quick, three-show teaser of her one-woman show, A View of the Heart. Audiences at Ars Nova for the short run could hardly bear to let her go, demanding two encores and offering standing ovations. If you missed it, you missed out.

The 90 minute show is a mix of spoken word and song, comedy and tragedy, cabaret and dramatic theater - and Black makes it work seamlessly. During the course of the show, Black becomes a wide range of characters from a pregnant, unmarried teen, to the wild Cocaine Jane, to finally, and with great pathos, a version of Karen Black herself. And while the characters are all over the map, there is a theme that runs throughout - survival. I'm not talking victim-oriented, going-on-Oprah sort of survival. What Black explores here is a survival of persevering and refusing to be a victim - to death, to abandonment, to time, or to circumstances.

i'm sick of blood

As Black explains it, the show's about navigating the course of one's life: "How do you survive? How do you continue? How do you carry on in a world where you really had better sort out what your best chances are and where your love lies?"

Black tackles her theme fearlessly. Some of the characters are loveable, others coarse, but her portrayals are so compassionate, the audience can't help but cheer them on. And laugh. Black's comic timing is dead on something her film fans may not know.

Black's mix of vulnerability - she spends most of the show in stocking feet - and fierce tenacity are really what make this performance a wonder. She lives every character intensely. And when, on a rare occasion, her voice quavers, sheer force of will brings it back, and she powers through the song.

In fact, Black's voice is lovely and versatile. She moves with agility between character and song, whether belting out an operatic rendition of "Eleanor Rigby," screeching through a frenetic cabaret number, or singing a soulful blues song.

And she looks great too. Those fabulous cheekbones, intense gaze and twenty-something figure remind you that Rayette Dipesto is somewhere just beneath the surface.

The intimate Ars Nova theater proved the perfect setting for such a personal performance. One of Black's favorite things about her show is how it enables her to be "in a very direct and warm and loving communication with the audience." During the show, Black repeatedly engages the audience, showing a veteran performer's gratitude for the cheers and ovations.

After the show, Black shared with us a little bit about her career and what's up next. Trilogy of Terror fans may be disappointed to note that horror films are of thing of her past: "I don't want to do anything with blood anymore. I'm sick of blood. I don't care about blood. Open wounds are deeply boring."

Instead, Black will continue to select meaningful roles sans gore. Like many actors, Black finds challenging and rewarding roles in independent film. She appeared recently in America Brown, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in May, and she's in talks with a number of independent directors and writers including Larry Gross (We Don't Live Here Anymore). Black also plans to continue A View of the Heart at home in LA -- and promises to bring it back to New York. If she does, you can be sure I'll be in the front row. And you should be too.

Jessica Cogan & Karen Black
Jessica Cogan with Karen Black

Karen Black performed A View of the Heart at Ars Nova Theater August 20, 21 and 23, 2004. She was backed by musical director Tracy Stark on keyboard and synthesizer, Shannon Ford on drums and Skip Ward playing bass.

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