Dramatic treatments of canonical artists are generally no-win prospects. Not only does the playwright need to be of an equal caliber to his subject but must somehow reconcile a nearly insurmountable clash of competing authorial voices. 
So it is no surprise that Bill & Joan, playwright Jon Bastian's ambitious biographical homage to novelist William S. Burroughs (Curt Bonnem), comes off as something of a fatal compromise.

Bastian is on his firmest footing when it comes to his poignant portrait of Burroughs' brilliant but Benzedrine-tweaked, alcoholic wife Joan Vollmer (in a searingly etched performance by Betsy Moore). Unfortunately, his attempt to propel the narrative with the “mystery” of what Burroughs' true motive might have been in the fateful game of “William Tell” that claimed Vollmer's life turns out to be a tediously conventional bust. 

Diana Wyenn directs with a sure hand (and contributes a handsomely effective production design), but the resulting pastiche is certain to mystify those unfamiliar with the pioneering master of transgressive postmodernism while trying the patience of even hardcore Burroughsians.

Bill & Joan by Jon Bastian, Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., E. Hlywd. Through March 1. Sacredfools.org.

LA Weekly