The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman

Two nights ago I saw a great play, The Chronic Ills of Robert Zimmerman AKA Bob Dylan (A Lie): A Theatrical Talking Blues and Glissendorf. Written and performed by Sydney artists, this mouthful of a play is a loving, wry homage to Bob Dylan.

It tells the story of his life, but with lots of exaggeration, wordplay, humour, and jumbled-up, made-up legend. In effect it treats Bob as a myth, just as Bob himself has always done, especially in his early days. The actor playing Dylan himself almost never stopped his constant barrage of pun-infused irony. If you’re a Dylanophile you’ll find canonical and biographical references in every other word. You don’t have to be a super-fan, but it helps.

There are musical interludes throughout, though interestingly few of the songs are actually Dylan’s. It’s a mostly playful play that posited what happened in Dylan meetings both real (Johnny Cash, Alan Ginsberg, Woody Guthrie) and imagined (Marilyn Monroe, Jesus Christ). The characters of Daniel Lanois, Joan Baez, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Ezra Pound, Abraham Lincoln, Dylan Thomas, and many more make appearances.

I missed this play during its run at the Old Fitzroy earlier this year, but it’s just finishing a stint at the Seymour Theatre, so I caught it there. I also made sure I caught a performance where the actors and a few others held a musical performance in the theatre bar afterwards. That alone was worth the price of admission, as they did good versions of Dylan songs well known (“Hurricane”, “Like a Rolling Stone”) and overlooked (“I Remember You”).


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