Paul Abramson, professor of psychology at UCLA and author of several well-regarded books on human sexuality, has a split personality. On one side, he’s a scholar with a reputation for standing up for the rights of both abuse victims and of those commonly perceived as sexual deviants — a difficult and laudable balancing act. On the other, he’s a caterwauling lead singer in the idiom of the Buzzcock’s Pete Shelley or Wall of Voodoo’s Stan Ridgway. The Saint of Fucked Up Karma, an experimental musical revue that incorporates Crying 4 Kafka, Abramson’s four-piece band, and two actors, Melanie Eckford and Terri Cruz, represents Abramson’s attempt to heal this split onstage, and in the process to create a “punk rock musical” based on a traumatic series of real events that begins with the sexual abuse of a young boy by an Arizona policeman.
Let’s start with what works. The eight original songs are quite good, and Abramson is a convincing rock vocalist — no mean feat. Each member of the band — Marc Bobro, Mattia Bacca, Ian Putnam, and Brandon Elán Thibeault — contributes to the overall sense of coherent raucousness that’s key to putting over this kind of music.
Then there’s the play. Away from the traditional handheld singer’s microphone that he wields so successfully, Abramson develops a slight speech impediment that distracts mightily from what is already an ineffectual script. Entrances and exits are lugubrious, stilted narration substitutes for dialogue and action, and what is clearly a compelling if horrific story gets lost in the confusion created by the staging. The tone swings wildly from Woody Allen to James Ellroy and back, leaving the viewer without a consistent point of view from which to evaluate all this misery. As punk rock, there may be hope for this saint, but as theater, heaven can wait.