TIO NYC: More Theatrics + Dramatic Art!

No doubt John Patrick Shanley is one dark dude,  who writes himself on to the stage – just like painters tend to paint bits and pieces of  their inner selves onto canvas. Born in the Bronx in 1950, Shanley likes to call attention to his urban bad-boy background as a working-class reprobate, booted from several schools; a boat-rocking intellectual; oh and a Marine. (He apparently did fine in that role.) The man has written more than a score of plays reflecting that colorful past – including “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.” A no-miss revival of the play is now up off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for a limited run. It was one of the cultural highs of our New York trip.

For more about TIO in NYC, go here.

Edward Albee, also no shrinking violet, once said a good play is “an act of aggression against the status quo.” 

But what if the status quo itself is an act of aggression?

Welcome to the world of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” in which a very angry man named Danny – he calls himself “The Beast” – and a shame-soaked woman named Roberta meet in a no-count bar, a physical analog of these desperate, downtrodden individuals.

Danny is so filled with rage that his only respite from a pain he cannot understand or contain is to lash out wildly and frequently with his fists. The man is violent; quite possibly homicidal. Roberta, eaten up inside by a dark secret she is afraid to share with anyone, is unable to find escape, even in sleep. This lonely, tormented divorcee is quite likely suicidal.

The path of this duo from bar to bed (yes, bed) is strewn with shards of broken glass. Beers lead to brawls: they scream, cry, hit, choke and toss expletives around like confetti.

And then comes The Dance.

According to online sources, while thinking about ways to incorporate choreography into his production, director Jeff Ward picked up a copy of the script with the work’s full title: “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea: An Apache Dance.”

That subtitle evidently refers to a French dance style, developed into a popular cabaret act in the early 1900s, which mixes a seductive kind of tango with a violent domestic battle in which the dancers fling each other around in between loving détentes.

The dance is one of many riveting moments in the tight-as-a-drum, 80-minute production.

In this adaption of “Danny,” Aubrey Plaza (of “White Lotus” and “Emily the Criminal” fame) is making her Broadway debut. The buzz is that the Hollywood super nova had one condition for accepting the role: Christopher Abbott. Abbott is a regular scene partner and experienced stage actor with whom Plaza purports to share an artistic symmetry and a playful rapport. Under Ward’s baton, both deliver ferociously nuanced performances, operatic in intensity.

“We’re both unafraid to be ugly and weird and strange,” Abbott said in an interview with The New York Times.

When the curtain drops on the angst-ridden pas de deux between Beauty and the Beast, two down-and-out strangers somehow manage to expunge at least some of the bad and the ugly from their lives and find good as hopeful lovers.

“Danny an the Deep Blue Sea” is a revival just right and ripe for our violently divided times. A pithy, potent tale of redemption and its coefficient, hope, only possible through authentic human connection.

Self-sabotage replaced by mutual understanding. Who could ask for anything more? Especially nowadays.

GO!

That said, for us another revival, which should have, could have resonated for our times too, failed to deliver on its promise.

“Purlie Victorious: A Non-Confederate Romp Through the Cotton Patch” at the Music Box:

Image, courtesy The New York Times.

Sixty-two years after it first debuted on Broadway, Ossie Davis’ 1961 play about racism should have resonated like “Danny” did for the world of today. Racism, as we know all too well, still runs rampant in ours and other countries. The production put that message out there for some, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Variety – but fell short on delivery for us.

Why?

Every word delivered by the cast – of and in itself, very very good – was shouted as if the audience had cotton balls in their ears. (Yes, pointed reference intended.) Laced with thick Southern accents, we found ourselves lost in translation. Out of the gate, rather Purlie’s shack, we strained to understand what everyone was going on about.

What’s more, every gesture, every action in the production was equally over-the-top, big, bold and broad. So when it came time for an action to speak louder than words, the message got lost in a thick haze of gesticulations.

Yes Leslie Odom Jr.is one terrific actor. Think Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.” And the man does do a yeoman job as the show’s titular lead. Kara Young as his love interest, Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins, is engaging and dynamic to say the least.

But as a course correction on racial bias, which this satire is meant to be, we found the Barcley L. Hendricks portrait show  at the Frick Breuer did a much better job of helping us see people of color as they are, cool and proud. The Henry Thomas paintings at the Whitney suggested we see their lives like they were and like they are today – harsh, but with many moments of sparkle. Then there is “Rustin,” which opened at the Telluride Film Festival, a movie based on the true story of a man who mentored Martin Luther King Jr. and took the lead organizing the 1963 March on Washington – a major historical event in American history which occurred just two short years after “Purlie” is set.

For us at least the art and the film do a much better job of shining a light on the tragic history of Blacks in America, challenging our perspectives and going the distance to set the record straight.

That said, as we said, major critics disagree, praising the production to the skies.

Read Jesse Green’s review in the New York Times for a wholly different perspective on the revival.

Frank Stella: “Indian Birds” at Mnuchin, through December 9, 2023:

Image courtesy Mnuchin Gallery.

According to Mnuchin, “Frank Stella: Indian Birds” is an “historic first, the exhibition will present six of Stella’s Indian Birds, alongside the artist’s archival drawings and maquettes for the series. This broad display, focused on a singular body of work, illuminates Stella’s intricate and multi-layered artistic process…

“While Stella is renowned for his prolific output, the Indian Birds are an exceptionally rare series consisting of only a dozen works, the majority of which are housed in esteemed museums and public institutions. Fabricated in New York between 1978 and 1979, the full-scale Indian Birds are monumental creations, each scaled 5.5x times larger than their respective maquettes.

‘Characterized by an ornate grandeur, dynamism, and dramatic light and shadow, the Indian Birds have frequently sparked comparisons to Baroque art. Indeed, it was within this series that Stella vigorously explored the figure-ground relationship, pushing it to its utmost limits. Using a transparent gridded armature to suspend his technicolor and glittered metal curves, Stella created pictorial compositions that transcended the confines of two dimensions and challenge painting’s conventional notion of flatness.”

It is quite a show.

Stella’s early paintings were at once completely flat and wildly spatial. They radiated into deep space and projected forward, invading the space of the viewer. The artist’s later work did that in a literal way, coming out off the wall- like the work in this walk down memory lane into the future.

The backstory from The Art Story:

“In 1959, Frank Stella gained early, immediate recognition with his series of coolly impersonal black striped paintings that turned the gestural brushwork and existential angst of Abstract Expressionism on its head.

Focusing on the formal elements of art-making, Stella went on to create increasingly complicated work that seemed to follow a natural progression of dynamism, tactility, and scale: first, by expanding his initial monochrome palette to bright colors and, later, moving painting into the third dimension through the incorporation of other, non-painterly elements onto the canvas. He ultimately went on to create large-scale freestanding sculptures, architectural forms, and the most complex work ever realized in the medium of printmaking.

Stella’s virtually relentless experimentation has made him a key figure in American modernism, helping give rise to such genres as Minimalism, Post-Painterly Abstraction, and Color Field Painting.”

In summary, Baroque period artists such as the early-17th-century Italian painter and super star (then as now) Caravaggio developed illusionistic “tricks” that suggested his subjects emerged out of the canvas and into the viewer’s space. Centuries later, Stella took the notion of innovation a step further by literally extending painting into the third dimension in painterly reliefs, which entered the viewer’s space by incorporating protruding materials. No doubt Stella’s complex work was flamboyantly vibrant, but it was also groundbreaking, pushing the boundaries of post-war modern art and abstraction.

We are privileged to have seen (in our case, once again), a few outstanding results of Stella’s journey from minimalism to maximalism is his current show.

New Museum, “Judy Chicago: Herstory,” through January 14, 2024

Image, courtesy CNN.

“Judy Chicago: Herstory,” spans the artist’s 60-year career to encompass the breadth of the artist’s contributions across painting, sculpture, installation, drawing, textiles, photography, stained glass, needlework, and printmaking, including her 1960s experiments in Minimalism; her revolutionary feminist art of the 1970s; and her narrative series of the 1980s and 1990s in which she expanded her focus to confront the Holocaust, environmental disaster and species extinction, birth and creation, masculinity, and mortality.

This is Chicago’s first-ever retrospective in New York City and it is a doozy of a show. In the aggregate, it is meant to challenge the patriarchal art world and shift the limelight to a history (or herstory) of art transformed by the many and varied contributions of women.

For us, the floor focusing on the womb and birthing process was, perhaps, the biggest WOW. For the”Birth Project,” (1980-85), Chicago collaborated with more than 150 needleworkers to create dozens of images combining painting and needlework that celebrate various aspects of the birth process, from the painful to the mythical. My mother and several of her friends, among them.

Jess sayin’…

Go here for a full review of the exhibition from The New York Times.

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