Karen Black - Photographed By Evan Sung
Written by Jessica Cogan
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.
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
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.
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?"
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.
mix of vulnerability - she spends most of the
show in stocking feet - and fierce tenacity are
really what make this performance a wonder. She
every character intensely. And when, on a rare
occasion, her voice quavers, sheer force of
will brings it back, and she powers through the
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.
looks great too. Those fabulous cheekbones, intense
gaze and twenty-something figure remind you that
Rayette Dipesto is somewhere just beneath the
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.
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."
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 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.