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      Bitter Bierce
    Fierce Bierce

    Witty, angry and tragic, the writer Ambrose Bierce is given life on stage by actor Stephen Mellor in playwright Mac Wellman's "Bitter Bierce."


    The latest from accomplished playwright Mac Wellman is a look at the life of Ambrose Bierce, the cantankerous writer and journalist who lived in the U.S. around the turn of the century, and it's a richly dramatic journey that history buffs will enjoy quite a bit.

    The stage is decorated with techical drawings of contraptions such as brake systems that bear the name Wellman as the inventor. In the midddle of the stage is a small stand with a glass pitcher of water, a drinking glass and a cabbage. Sitting next to these things is Stephen Mellor, the sole actor in the show, playing Bierce.

    Written by: Mac Wellman.
    Cast: Stephen Mellor.
    Scenic and lighting design by: Kyle Chepulis. Costumes by: Barb Mellor
    P.S. 122
    150 First Ave. at 9th St.
    Feb. 6 - March 2, 2003

    As he tells it,the life of Ambrose Bierce was punctuated by tragedy. As a young man, Bierce kills his father with an axe after they commit a robbery and argue over dividing up the spoils. He fights in the Civil War beginning in 1861 and learns firsthand of the horrors of battle at Shiloh. During the war he is shot in the head and gets discharged with a distinguished service medal.

    Then he moves to San Francisco and begins to write for newsletters where he rails against "Holy Rollers" and politicians. He writes more, marries and has children, two of whom die later on under sad circumstances — one committing suicide after involvement in a love triangle, the other one freezing to death after a drinking binge.

    There are bits of light in Bierce's tale, as when William Randolph Hearst comes to his doorstep and asks him to write for one of his papers and when President Roosevelt invites him to the White House. (Bierce can't stand him but goes anyway.) He publishes a collection of his writing and it gets terrible reviews, which devastates him. "Nothing matters," Bierce muses at various points after experiencing loss, and it's hard not to believe him. Bierce eventually moves to Mexico because he thinks there's some value in the fighting and dies there.

    Throughout the performance, Bierce's wit and perspicacity shines through. Often the "Devil's Dictionary" author will say a word and give it a biting definition, such as when he says "Love — a temporary insanity curable by marriage," or "Bride — a woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her." He also tells the story of a Civil War soldier who comes across a dead body, a tale which became "The Incident At Owl Creek."

    Stephen Mellor gives a fine performance as Bierce, the rich timbre of his voice giving the words a sonorous quality. Watching "Bitter Bierce" is like getting an involving history lesson and looking deeply into the difficult and darkly hued life of a fiercely intelligent man whom time has overlooked and life had not been kind to.

    FEBRUARY 20, 2003

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