‘The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse’ combines music, dance and drama to explore infamous Black Dahlia case

Elizabeth Short

“She’s a very noirish character,” says musician/writer/director David J. Haskins of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia. “She’s a blank screen on which anything can be projected. She was a mysterious, glamorous, romantic figure.”

Indeed, very little is known for sure about the brief life of the Black Dahlia, who in death attained the fame she dreamt of in Hollywood. Some say she was an aspiring actress; other accounts portray her as a confused drifter.

Her brutally mutilated and severed body was found, artfully arranged, in a vacant lot near Crenshaw Boulevard and West 39th Street in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1947; she was 22. The mystery of her death remains unsolved, though there have been numerous theories and potential suspects.

David J. Haskins

Haskins (formerly a member of the band Bauhaus as well as Love and Rockets) puts forward his contention about the murder in his new play, “The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse.” It opens Thursday at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.

The production uses three interwoven devices: a dramatization; live music from Haskins, Ego Plum and Ysanne Spevack; and butoh dance by acclaimed performer Vangeline. The songs were originally composed for Ramzi Abed’s 2007 film about the Dahlia called “The Devil’s Muse.”

Madi Comfort's boyfriend lived in this house on Franklin Avenue in Hollywood.

Central to the story is real-life singer Madi Comfort (played by Daniele Watts with Tracey Leigh making special appearances throughout the run). Comfort’s lover was a suspect in the Black Dahlia case. Douglas Dickerman plays cop Frank Jemison, a straight arrow determined to get to the bottom of the slaying.

A longtime fan of German Expressionism and film noir, particularly its “very clipped, smart, sharp dialogue with fast delivery,” Haskins names “The Maltese Falcon” as one of his favorite movies and Orson Welles as a much-admired director.

“The Chanteuse and the Devil’s Muse” runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 1 at the Bootleg, 2220 Beverly Blvd., 213-389-3856; tickets are $25, $18 for students and seniors. Run time is just under one hour.

Stay tuned – I’ll be posting video snippets from my recent interview with Haskins.

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