FORT WORTH Because the chapters in American writer Richard Brautigan's novels are very brief -- sometimes a page or shorter -- they might seem relatively easy to adapt for the stage. That is, in comparison to sprawling and/or dense works in the American novel canon, such as Moby-Dick.
Hip Pocket Theatre has managed both this year, in their unique way. First was a bare-bones outline of Moby-Dick, with puppetry and physical theater doing the storytelling. Now, it's Johnny Simons' adaptation of Brautigan's 1974 work The Hawkline Monster, subtitled A Gothic Western. (Simons has adapted Brautigan's In Watermelon Sugar in the past.)
How he manages it: Simons, with his soothing, deep voice, narrates the exposition and descriptive passages, and lets the actors play out the plot and dialogue. Whole chapters are excised in order to streamline the story for 90 minutes.
The plot involves two outlaws in 1902, Greer (Quentin McGown) and Cameron (Michael Joe Goggans), whose adventures move from Hawaii to California and the American West. Along the way, they kill and, well, do other things you'd expect cowboy outlaws to engage in, such as visit brothels.
They encounter an American Indian woman named Magic Child (Gracey Tune), who accompanies them to the Oregon house of Jane Hawkline (Julie Ballew) and Professor Hawkline (Thad Isbell). Magic Child has a lot in common with Mrs. Hawkline, but that's the not the most mysterious thing in this house, which has ice caves in the basement.
Mrs. Hawkline asks the men to kill a monster down there, which has something to do with the Professor's disappearance and his experiments in chemistry.
If you've read the novel, you know that Brautigan makes liberal use of the "F" word, the one that can be used as every part of speech. And in the book, it is; mostly as a verb. In the recorded curtain speech, Simons explains that it's an adults-only show, and that this word (and other explicatives) is used frequently. He's not kidding.
The word is used a lot, and the action of it is a verb is played out as Greer and Cameron have their fun in the brothels, with Magic Child, and the Hawkline Sisters (Tune also plays Jane's sister, Susan).
Simons, who also directs, keeps the vulgarity funny and theatrical, with the help of costumer Mimi Kayl-Vaughan and musician Darrin Kobetich, adding atmosphere and sound effects with his electric guitar. When it calls for the women to be naked, they wear nude body suits with sight-gag anatomical additions. Simons' narration carries the show, though, as the four main actors purposefully give emotionless, matter-of-fact line readings.
It turns into the company's trademark physical theater when the Monster (Rebo Hill) and the Monster's Shadow (Jeffrey Stanfield) are confronted and attacked.
It's both funny and profane, and like Brautigan's novel, more profound than the surface would suggest. What does it all mean? Perhaps this line from the novel best sums up Hip Pocket's production: "It was almost like something out of Hieronymus Bosch if he had been into Western landscapes."