Fleck in Berlin
Solo performer/performance artist/actor (pick a title, any title) John Fleck first got in the public’s face in 1990 as one of the infamous NEA Four, denied funding by the agency because his “product” was proclaimed too dirty to be called art. Fleck’s subsequent solo shows include the recent Dirt, where he delighted in bringing to the surface the gritty, the grimy, and the wonderfully tasteless (national endowments did not escape unsullied). He cleaned up his act to appear in a production of Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep last year, and he also pops up frequently on TV; you may have seen him in Ally McBeal,
Just Shoot Me, and as a recurring character on Murder One.
These days, Fleck is appearing in Charles Mee’s The Berlin Circle, which is receiving rave notices at the newly opened Evidence Room. The work is a “re-imagining” of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle, set in East Germany in 1989–just as the Berlin Wall is coming down. Fleck plays experimental playwright/director Heiner Müller, who initially grovels for government funding but goes on to defend the artist’s role in society.
TM: There’s a not-so-subtle poetic justice in your latest role, I’d say.
FLECK: Art and politics. Who’d have thought it?
TM: There are a lot of layers to the play itself, which is inspired by a 14th-century Chinese play, which inspired Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, which inspired a Chinese opera.
FLECK: Oh, yes. It’s one big parfait.
TM: Not to mention your own involvement in it.
FLECK: It’s enough make you sick, isn’t it?
TM: This is a bit different from your last show, Irma Vep, where you played how many characters? And had how many costume changes?
FLECK: This time, I spend the whole play in one vomit-stained T-shirt. And no dresses, whatsoever. I don’t play any girls. Just one guy, full of testosterone. Wait–I don’t know if I’d go that far. But he is a man.
TM: A real man. I mean, an actual man. A character from history.
FLECK: Right. He’s one of the most revered playwrights in Europe. What a thinker–and very dark. After the fall of the wall, he said something like: “Democracy bores me to death.” Socialism–at least he knew how to work it.
TM: You seem to know how to work it pretty well yourself. You’ve got your own solo stuff, but still find time to dabble in LA theater…
FLECK: Diversify, diversify, diversify!
TM: …and to do TV roles.
FLECK: Money, money, money! I like acting. It’s fun. And, in this town, it seems to give you a little bit more validity.
TM: Come again? Acting gives you validity?
FLECK: I was at an audition once, and somebody said: “You’re a performance artist? What does that mean? You can’t act?” You know how these cats think. And doing plays sure takes the pressure off having to write. I was up until five o’clock in the morning last night.
TM: Don’t you have a piece coming up on June 25 for the ASK Theater Projects’ Common Ground Festival?
FLECK: It’s called Interview with a Degenerate.
TM: Nice title.
FLECK: I had to think of a name before I’d written it, and I thought, “Hey, that’ll mess with a few people.” It’s all about The King Family. Are you old enough to remember them?
TM: You mean the American version–albeit equally Aryan–of the Von Trapps?
FLECK: Right. Thank God for hair dye! The piece is all about my twisted fantasy surrounding the singing King family.
TM: Does politics enter into it?
FLECK: Well–Heiner Müller said that, in communism, the artist serves an important function; in capitalism, the artist is like fast food. But hey, Americans love fast food, so…
TM: Let them eat hamburgers!