The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie)Photos - Jen Hamilton

It was apparently conceived by Benito De Fonzo as a sketch for the 2008 Short and Sweet, a festival of ten minute shorts. The title apparently doesn’t get included in the time constraint or this one would have ended before it began. It remains a sketch albeit expanded in format.

Sketch writing allows for a relative freedom not available in longer formats such as a play, giving the writer the opportunity to explore ideas and develop characters in a very efficient way. It’s a very effective form of exploring a single idea or premise or showcasing an interesting character.

This production involves both with brevity and humour.

Its basic premise is Zimmerman’s journey of self affirmation as opposed to self discovery. It has the consistent motifs of ‘twisting’ and ‘sliding’ whether it is following Dylan’s tortuous musical evolution or his life’s meanderings, shedding relationships and other constraints along the way. Dylan’s life and music it seems have been an exercise in integrating and moving on, a self evolving morphism.

De Fonzo makes a lot of Dylan’s coined term ‘glissendorf’, a compound word describing a ‘change in functional direction’, a branching out into new territory or concepts. A botanical archetype is found in nature in the meristem. It probably is as symptomatic of Dylan’s progress through life as his lyricism.

The work endeavours to highlight some of the people and experiences that have shaped the man and his music although it is fair to say he has been disinclined to explore that path himself. The point of glissendorf is that the change is spontaneous in its evolution. That is not to say that there are no causes but that they are complex. By reason of their relative weighting in the process it is difficult to identify the major genesis, any more than one might look for the ‘cause’ of the First World War; it certainly took more than the shot fired in Sarajevo.

Dylan’s iconic wordplay probably stems from a close affinity with his parent’s Ukrainian influenced language, a natural language constructed in sound strings rather than by word differentiation. In this it may well have closely resonated the rhythms of Gaelic, Breton and other Celtic languages.

There are certainly some very funny allusions in the production and director, Lucinda Gleeson, has maintained a strong forward movement throughout the sketch. Displaying, perhaps, a familiarity with the pas glisse she introduces the various elements within the story line by way of sliding them in and out without interrupting the dialogue.

This makes heavy demands on the two supporting performers, Andrew Henry and Lenore Munro both of whom are called on to do some very nimble turnarounds in delivering well defined cameos of a long line of people in Dylan’s life. The pair adopts characters from Arlo Guthrie and Dylan Thomas, to John Lennon and Jonny Cash (Henry) and Ezra Pound and Joan Baez, to ‘Caroline’ and Jesus of Nazareth (Munro). It’s an eclectic line up but then so are Dylan’s songs. Both performers maintain superb delivery and strong differentiation.

Eliza McLean has effectively drawn on a variety of motifs to provide a set reinforcing the unstructured nature of the journey. The shadow play of the boat provides a very clever coordination with the lighting of Richard Whitehouse who effectively lit a confined space into a myriad of places both inside and out of the mind of the fabled Dylan.

Simon Rippingale, as musical director, faithfully followed our itinerant hero throughout his various reinventions to generate a very entertaining aspect of Dylan’s musical metamorphoses.

Lucinda Gleeson and producer, Jennifer Hamilton point out in the notes that the work is not intended as a ‘tribute’ show distinguishing it from such works as ‘The Buddy Holly Story’. They refer to the difficulty with copyright explaining why the music isn’t quite what the audience might have expected. It accounts for the fact that much of Dylan’s famed word games and metaphors are delivered in spoken monologue by Matt Ralph, in the title role, as opposed to song. Ralph gives the performance a gentle sardonicism quite worthy of the man himself.

The song excerpts were disappointingly few. Dylan speaks through his lyrics in their melody as much as their definitive meaning, his distinctive meter is to our age the equivalent of Shakespeare’s blank verse to his. It is probably why he is reluctance to go behind the phrase forms. Ralph in the character of Dylan, right at the outset, debunks the idea that the lyrics conceal ‘messages’, an observation he repeats close to the end of the performance.

Dylan has always been reluctant to examine his phrase forms probably because they draw on a timeless and deeply ingrained imagery that is translated only in the imagination of the listener. They depend as much on pitch and meter for their meaning as any defined word import. The resounding success of his recordings over the last decade attest to the man’s ability to transcend class, creed, culture and generation suggesting they are emotive in concept not intellectual. Trying to duplicate it out of its musical context is unlikely to enjoy much success.

Dylan’s unique phrase form speaks to his audience at a subliminal level. It is the essence of the man. Dissecting it in order to find its genesis results in what Aristophanes in ‘The Birds’ observed of those who sought the prescience ability of birds by dissecting them - all you end up with is a dead bird.


The Tamarama Rock Surfers present
The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman: AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie) – A theatrical talking blues and Glissendorf
by Benito Di Fonzo

Director Lucinda Gleeson

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre | Cnr Cathedral St and Dowling St Woolloomooloo
Dates: 6 – 30 April 2010
Times: Tues-Sat, 8pm and Sunday 5pm
Tickets: $29 Full, $21 Concession, $35 Beer, Laksa and Show (plus BF)
$17 Preview and Cheap Tuesday, $25 Beer, Laksa and Show (plus BF)
Bookings: www.rocksurfers.org | 1300 438 849 | box office 75 mins prior to performance                 
Blog: http//:chroniclesofchronicills.wordpress.com