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  • Excerpts from The Carbon Copy Building:A Comic Book Opera
  • Ben Katchor

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[End Page 66]

Musical theater meets the comics in The Carbon Copy Building, a revolutionary collaboration between comic-strip artist Ben Katchor, Bang on a Can's composers/artistic directors Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe, and director Bob McGrath of Ridge Theater. This comic-book opera embraces the dark, witty humor of Katchor—known for his cult classic underground comic Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer—to look at a pair of "carbon copy buildings," structures with the same architectural plan but very different lives. One stands on a wide, wealthy New York avenue and the other on the forgotten alley of a fringe neighborhood. Katchor's stark line drawings combine with the jagged angularity of Gordon, Lang, and Wolfe's music to depict a strange and powerful American urban experience—one of bizarre pitchmen, loners, failed salesmen, insomniacs, pensioners, and people from a very odd array of professions.

The Carbon Copy Building was presented by Bang on a Can and the Kitchen, in association with Ridge Theater, commissioned by the Settembre Musica Festival, and promoted by the City Council of Turin, Italy, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

It opened on September 30,1999, at the Kitchen in New York City. The Carbon Copy Building won an Obie Award for Best Production of 1999.

Text courtesy of the Kitchen [End Page 67]

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ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIAN The "original" Palatine today houses several philanthropic organizations and a number of esteemed literary publishing houses. The hallways are clean, the elevators modernized, and the door-closers all silent.

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PORTER The Palatine Building on Park Manure Avenue is a model of historic preservation . . . The tile floors are mopped each day with a solution of ammonia and near-beer as they were seventy years ago. The men's room urinals are supplied with 1929-style deodorant crystals. I, the building's current porter, am the great-grandson of the building's first porter.

[End Page 68]

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Scene 1

ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIAN In sad contrast, the Palaver Building now finds itself in the midst of the Bent Spoon District.

Projected text of building's directory: "A dessert embalmer, an emergency chewing gum removal service, a publisher of midget bibles . . ."

ARCH. HIST. Wedged between a third-run movie theater and a roasted nut house.

More projected text: "A keyhole cleaning service, a masturbator's supply company, a short breath sufferers' club . . ."

ARCH. HIST. Each floor has been subdivided into dozens of small offices; the moldings are blurred from hundreds of repaintings.

More projected text: "A professional pants' splitter, a coffee grounds recycling company..."

ARCH. HIST. Standing as they do on different sides of town, the two buildings are rarely held up for comparison. But, if one were to look carefully, behind the signs and renovations, the family resemblance would be plain to see: an identical twin gone to seed. Each building has changed hands a dozen times. But few bother to study such things. Thank you and good night. Thank you. Thank you and good night.

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[End Page 69]

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"The formaldehyded desserts? I was thinking about what cultural preservation means, and saving wedding cakes, and the whole desire people have to preserve things that really can't be preserved. I wanted to set up the fact that the mechanics of preservation were done in one world, for people in another world."

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Scene 13

WAITER One cherry cheese cake?

PHILIP EMETINE Yes, with two forks.

SEMELE OUTFIELDER And two decaffeinated coffees.

Projected text: They linger for half an hour over the dessert, too full to really enjoy it. And then, by mutual agreement, give up.

EMETINE/OUTFIELDER Waiter. A check please.

Projected text: Before leaving, Semele Outfielder puts the teaspoon from her coffee onto the plate of cheesecake: a signal to the waiter that the dessert's to be embalmed...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 66-73
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2005
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