TIMES OF SAN DIEGO
Among many other nasty epithets, he was called “Bitter Bierce,” “purveyor of morbidities.” He disdained capitalism, religion, politics and humans in general.
But when you hear the life story of Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), maybe you can understand the origin of his cynicism.
He abandoned the wife he adored because he suspected her of infidelity. His two sons died prematurely and foolishly: one, fueled by jealousy, committed murder and then suicide; the other, fueled by alcohol, froze to death after an all-night binge. On top of all this, Bierce was there at Shiloh during the Civil War, one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. history. He later received a gunshot wound to the head, but insisted on returning to active duty. What he saw in wartime scarred him for life and shaped his .
Taken together, his experiences could make a pessimist out of anyone. Even his demise adds to the eccentricity: Bierce disappeared without a trace while covering the war in Mexico.
He got an early start as a professional skeptic and provocateur, writing journalistic pieces that skewered every aspect of American society. His short stories ( “An Occurrence at Owl Creek” and “Chickamauga,” for example) are considered some of the best ever written. But perhaps the culmination of his many works of biting social satire was his “Devil’s Dictionary” (1911), still quoted today for its mordant wit.
In “Bitter Bierce,” a one-man play replete with his Dictionary definitions and other musings, along with autobiographical details, was created by acclaimed playwright Mac Wellman. In the Talent to aMuse production, the curmudgeon is effectively portrayed by George Weinberg-Harter.
At 90 minutes, it’s a language-dense historical exercise, and obviously a bear to master. Weinberg hasn’t yet gotten his stride; there were hesitations and inconsistencies in the smooth flow. But it’ll certainly improve with the familiarity of repetition and time. The bon mots are plentiful, as are the harrowing stories, and as directed by Walter Ritter, there are nice variations in tone, pace and placement.
On the small stage of the 10th Avenue Arts Center, three flower-flocked wallpapered panels (designed by O.P. Hadlock ) suggest an early 20th century living room, with old sepia photos, plenty of books, and a table holding a raw cabbage, which Bierce refers to repeatedly, defining it as “a familiar kitchen vegetable about as large and wise as a human head.”
Other notable entries from “The Devil’s Dictionary” that mask sentiment with cynicism:
Love – A temporary insanity curable by marriage
Bride –A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her
Happiness, Bierce insists, “ is the only thing worth having.” It seems to have eluded him almost completely, as he continually dismisses all of life with his chilling motto: “Nothing matters.”
But in the end, for all his fury and furor, Bierce does.
“Bitter Bierce” runs through June 22, in the 10th Avenue Arts Center Cabaret Theatre, 930 10th Ave., downtown San Diego
Performances are Thursday at 7pm, Friday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 4pm
Running Time: 90 min.
Tickets ($15-$20) are at 619-940-6814; www.talenttoamuse.com
©2014 PAT LAUNER