"Closed Casket" Preview -Theater OObleck presents "The Complete, Final and Absolutely Last Baudelaire in a Box"



This 15-hour event will be presented August 4th – 6th, 2017 at Links Hall at Constellation, 3111 N. Western, Chicago

"Baudelaire in a Box Episode 1: The Wine Cycle"; artwork by Dave Buchen (pictured); photo courtesy of Martha Bayne/Theater OObleck

To finalize and fulfill its 7-year adaptation of Charles Baudelaire’s scandalous, debauched 19th-century classic Les fleurs du mal (“The Flowers of Evil”) as an epic illustrated song cycle, Theater Ooblecks Baudelaire in a Box project culminates in the summer of 2017 with Closed Casket, a 15-hour festival presentation of the complete cycle, timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Baudelaire’s death.


Theater Oobleck is an artistic collective dedicated to producing and performing original works of theater for the benefit of, and at low or no cost to, the members of the Chicago community and beyond. All our works are created and developed by members of the Oobleck ensemble, working in concert to create a collaborative vision without an overseeing director. We have produced about 70 world-premiere productions over the past 30 years, as well as 18 remounts of earlier productions. More information is available on the Theater Oobleck website.

Chris Schoen, Emmy Bean and Dave Buchen; "Baudelaire in a Box Episode 3: Death and Other Excitements"; photo courtesy Martha Bayne/Theater OObleck

Over the past 7 years Theatre Oobleck has produced 13 episodes of Baudelaire in a Box, each featuring hand-cranked boxed panoramas drawn and painted by artist Dave Buchen, scored with original music and performed by an ensemble of musicians and singers.


In 2009 Theater Oobleck’s Dave Buchen illustrated a few Baudelaire poems on small scrolls of paper, and fit the scrolls into a set of wine boxes, while musician Sebastian Paz translated them into Spanish and set them to music. The result was “Baudelaire in a Box, Episode 1: The Wine Cycle.” Originally performed in Puerto Rico, it was later presented in Chicago with new English translations by Chris Schoen. A project was born.

"Elevationcranky"; detail of artwork from "Baudelaire in a Box Episode 6: Elevation"; photo courtesy of Martha Bayne/Theater OObleck

Under the curation of Buchen and Schoen, there have been more than a dozen additional episodes in the series, with more than 125 poems translated into English, or Spanish, or sometimes left in the original French, and set to music by 50 composers and translators.  Buchen illustrates the poems on long paper scrolls; the scrolls are mounted into wooden frames, known as “crankies”, and fitted with handles, to be hand-cranked in all their crinkly pre-cinematic majesty. The songs sing the scrolls and the scrolls depict the songs, harking back to the original poems in circuitous fashion, refracted by time, forgetfulness, distraction, and, of course, wine.


Each episode features a unique ensemble of musicians, ranging from solo performances to an eight-piece band, and includes composers and performers from some of the most highly regarded outfits in Chicago, such as “Mucca Pazza”, “Bobby Conn”, “Expo 76”, “Matchess”, “Tallulah”, and “Azita”, as well as Theater Oobleck regulars Jeff Dorchen and Chris Schoen. To this fine roster Theater Oobleck has added musical luminaries from the music scenes of Chapel Hill, NC, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and New York City.

"Baudelaire in a Box Episode 7: El Rey de la LLuvia", Lizbeth Román; photo by José Madera

Cantastoria (“sung story”) is the Italian word for the performance of paintings accompanied by sung narration. Originating in sixth century India, it has traveled the world and evolved into many different forms. The "cranky" is the preferred nomenclature in the U.S. today, thanks to its coining by Bread and Puppet Theater's Peter Schumann, who is perhaps single-handedly responsible for the revival of this time-honored narrative device. In the 19th century, crankies were called "moving panoramas," and they were all the rage.


Many of the compositions are set to original translations written expressly for this project, and run the gamut of musical styles, including glam rock, bolero, cabaret, soul, tango, folk, golden-era country, chanteuse, ambient, and reggaeton.


Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) was a French poet who also was a noted essayist, art critic and translator of Poe. His most famous work, Les Fleurs de mal, (“Flowers of Evil”), 1857, considered a masterpiece, and an important influence on the symbolist and modernist movements, dealt with themes of decadence and eroticism. Both Baudelaire and his publisher were prosecuted – and the author was fined-for the work, labeled “an insult to public decency”. Indeed, six poems- 2 of which dealt with lesbian themes- were banned from publication for almost 100 years; the ban was lifted in 1949. The poetry has been called “remarkably clear, incisive and accessible”, dealing with highly personal as well as universal ideas such as: boredom, destiny, artistry, spirituality vs. physicality, good vs. evil, discipline vs. self-control, human conflict, the nature of time, death, the role of women, etc.  His “take” on issues- his criticism of the bourgeois, his alleged advocacy of  “satanism”, and his experience of drug-induced mental states -was considered avant-garde at the time in which Baudelaire was making his contributions. He has been credited with bringing the details of Paris “to life in the eyes and hearts of his readers”.

Dave Buchen; image courtesy of the artist


This reviewer had the opportunity to interview “Baudelaire in a Box” co-creator Dave Buchen on the eve of this event about the scope of his artistic vision and his multi-faceted career, reflected in the diverse aspects of the Baudelaire project.  His thoughtful and intriguing remarks about the genesis of his inspiration are paraphrased below:


“I fell into theater almost by chance”, he mused, remembering attending a founding meeting for Theater Oobleck. “From doing theater, I learned about new things: lights, sets, and posters”.


Similarly, he remembers, “Coming out of a bar in Lincoln Park in 1984, I saw a wood-block poster by Carlos Cortez announcing a night of music by The Wobblies. I went to the concert; the evening was infused with music, humor, and political consequence”.


Later, he got a set of carving tools for his birthday and “I found linoleum from a kitchen in an alley, took it home, and made a calendar. I am still making them”.


Still later, he became interested in puppetry, working with Sebastian Paz in Puerto Rico and Red Moon Theater in Chicago.


When I asked, “Why Baudelaire?” Buchen responded, “Chris Schoen and I decided to do a show about wine. Baudelaire wrote famously about wine. At the time, I was reading to my children every night. Baudelaire was not kid-friendly so I decided to separate the worlds- read them childrens books, and fit Baudelaire into my work”.


He plays the clarinet in a band, so creating the “cantastorias” was an interesting challenge for him. “The dilemma is that people don’t really know what this musical art is all about. It’s a concert in which musicians have created works of poetry.Then, they are combined with visual art that is a pre-cinematic throwback’,


He advised that the compositions in “Closed Casket” are “Beautiful music you’ve never heard before- a very fine body of work”.


By the way, his children now enjoy the poetry of Baudelaire...


"Baudelaire in a Box Episode 8: "Noche Deliciosa"; Lizbeth Román, Cheryl Rivera, Christian Galán, Javier Carballido, Bryan Pérez, Efrain Martinez, Maximiliano Rivas, Katira María, Dave Buchen (in rear); photo by Claudia Carbonell

 “Closed Casket” Schedule:

  • Friday, Aug. 4 at 7 pm

The Chicago premieres of

“Noche Deliciosa” (in Spanish, from San Juan, Puerto Rico)

“Bad Luck” (from North Carolina)

“El Rey de la Lluvia” (in Spanish, from San Juan, Puerto Rico)

Tickets $20

 Plus: Preshow performance in the bar at 6:45 of El Vino, by Bati Paz (in Spanish)



 Saturday, Aug. 5 from 11 am to midnight

“The Wine Cycle” (in Spanish and English)

“Consolations of the Moon”

“Death and Other Excitements”

“Bad Luck”



“The King of Rain”

“El rey de la Lluvia” (In Spanish)

“Delicious Night”

“Noche Deliciosa” (In Spanish)


Tickets $50 (includes lunch and dinner) or half-day tickets $30; afternoon (with lunch) or evening (with dinner)

  • Sunday, Aug. 6 at  6 pm

“Episode X” includes 32 world premiere songs from the remaining poems in “Les fleurs du mal”

Tickets $15

"Baudelaire in a Box Episode 9: Unquenched; Remorse Band 3: photo courtesy of Martha Bayne/Theater Oobleck

Tickets to “Closed Casket: The Complete, Final and Absolutely Last Baudelaire in a Box” are on sale now. Single tickets are $15 - $50 or pay-what-you-can and include Saturday lunch and dinner.  Tickets and more information are available on the Theater Oobleck website or by calling 773-281-0824.



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