Written by Julie Lawless
The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman is a neological journey through the life of Bob Dylan and his search for his Holy Grail (embodied in Woody Guthrie’s mythical basement stash of unrecorded songs). A beautiful montage of the nonsensical answers Dylan delights in giving journalists, and with outstanding performances from all the players, writer Benito Di Fonzo’s work is just wonderful - Chronic Ills is a celebration of the roguish wordsmithery of a true artisan and mischief-maker.
From the second he steps on the stage, Matt Ralph is Dylan. This would have gone horribly wrong if the actor playing Bob had chosen to parody or mimic him in the manner of a cover-band but Ralph plays him to perfection. His Hedburg-esque delivery adds to the fun. I’ve never particularly been a fan of Joan Baez, so I found Lenore Munro’s portrayal of her far more palatable than the real thing. With a powerful voice more than capable of pulling of Baez’s “three octave scale with a vibrato you could wash dishes with”, Munro’s various cameos throughout were all terrific, in particular her scene-stealing Yoko Ono.
The show was peppered with hilarious visitations from the likes of Lennon and Ono, a hipster-Yiddish speaking Abe Lincoln, Allen Ginsberg, Johnny Cash, Jesus and of course the keeper of the Grail, Guthrie himself. Most of the afore-mentioned parts were played by Andrew Henry, with a terrific grasp of accents and impeccable comic timing. Although the play is essentially about Dylan and love of language, this was truly an ensemble piece.
Di Fonzo’s stream-of-consciousness scripting was so fast-paced and kinetic that it could almost be hard to follow- but such is the essence of a Dylan interview and it would have been trite to have played it any other way. Interestingly when I left the theatre I had not Dylan songs in my head but Bowie’s Song For Bob Dylan - in itself a tribute to the man that to me captures the spirit of Di Fonzo’s masterpiece.
Clever, witty, sharp and surreal, I was already planning on coming back to watch it again within the first twenty minutes of the show.
The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman is playing every night but Mondays at The Old Fitroy Hotel in Woolloomoolloo until April 24, 2010. Every performance so far have sold out so I strongly urge anyone who loves music, words and fun to get in and book NOW!