nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 18, 2012
If you just happened to meet Laura Wingfield one day, would she know that her glass menagerie was a symbol of her own fragility and uniqueness?
This is one of the potent ideas in Steven Fechter's engaging and entertaining new play The Artifacts, which is debuting this month courtesy of Other Side Productions and Thom Fogarty, who also directs. It's a play with a neat premise: a young theatre graduate student, Beth, is taking her comprehensive exams, and during the test she is visited by Ibsen's Hedda Gabler and Strindberg's Miss Julie. Of course, it's one thing for a playwright to get a cool idea and quite another to actually develop something interesting and rewarding from such an idea. Happily, Fechter delivers. The play is great fun to watch and also loaded with intriguing notions that will keep audience members reflecting and discussing for hours after the curtain comes down.
Obviously, a good play needs some conflict, and Fechter doesn't rely on the 19th century masters for that. Beth's antagonist is Professor Nelson, a middle-aged hack who embodies everything that's disappointing in the world of academic theatre. He brags about how he once had lunch with Beckett and gleefully tears down works of theatrical art simply because he can. Hedda, he declares (for example), only makes sense if portrayed by a man—much to the consternation of the lady herself, who happens to be standing right there in the room with him when he makes this silly pronouncement.
Fechter goes much deeper in The Artifacts than to simply puncture the presumptuous pomposity of the talentless. He's interested here in separating a work of art from its creator, and appreciating a work of art on its terms rather than within any kind of imposed framework or context. Shouldn't the greatest of plays (like Hedda and Miss Julie) be fundamentally visceral rather than purely intellectualized experiences?
Fogarty's production is lean, quickly paced, and always interesting. Selections from "Blue" Gene Tyranny's latest album provide striking musical background for the proceedings. The cast does fine work, with Lulu Fogarty and Caitlin Rose McMahon standing out as Julie and Hedda, respectively, perhaps because they play so strongly to our own expectations of these women; Amy Newhall and Armand Anthony bring vivid life to the modern characters of Beth and Professor Nelson.
The place where Fechter ultimately takes Beth and us in the play surprised me. I appreciated how much I had to react to and think about when The Artifacts was through.