A Brush with Georgia O'Keeffe
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
June 23, 2008
While the topic of this new play is fascinating and intriguing, the play itself is just too scattered to make much of an impact on anyone not already thoroughly informed about Georgia O'Keeffe's life. Much of the content of Natalie Mosco's script is lively and engaging, but she's tried to squeeze in far too much. This play needs some focused re-working in order to escape its current workshop quality and reach the point of feeling like a finished product.
To be sure, trying to adequately represent such an overwhelming roller-coaster of a life in a single evening of theatre is quite a challenge. Mosco, who also stars in the title role, has made excellent choices about which events to present in an effort to illuminate the life of this famous artist. Pivotal moments in her artistic vision and development are on display, as are relationships which sometimes supported and sometimes poisoned her mental health or her artistic process or both. There are numerous scenes which are breathtakingly beautiful and serve to offer legitimate insight into the beauty and pain of a very human life. In these moments, the play soars. Mosco has also chosen events that effectively convey the larger backdrop of the 20th century artistic community. Unfortunately, the play as a whole is undermined by sloppy transitions, scenes that need to be completely rewritten, and other material which should be cut altogether. As it is, the play feels more like a History Channel retrospective bio than a window into the complicated world of this compelling and groundbreaking artist.
The performances, sadly, suffer the same fate. Mosco delivers a variety of poignant, moving scenes. However, these moments where she is fully inhabiting the character and has the audience rapt are undercut by others which feel forced and unnatural. This inconsistency is partly due to the start-and-stop feel of the script. Better transitions and a more balanced script might help considerably. David Lloyd Walters and Virginia Roncetti each portray a variety of roles, often in rapid-fire succession, and each delivers moments which are compelling and demonstrate the potential of the material.
Likewise, Robert Kalfin's direction keeps the pace of show moving fairly well, but again, it's hampered by the somewhat disjointed script. He has made every attempt to allow the characters to each make their own offering, rather than simply serve as a backdrop to O'Keeffe's life. The staging is balanced and makes excellent use of the backdrop of photographs, portraits, and artwork projected behind the actors.
Marilys Ernst's projections design and execution are the most consistent aspect of the show. Paintings and portraits, sketches and photographs, all serve as a marvelous backdrop for the performance and help support the storytelling in a surprisingly organic way, much like a slide show put together by a really effective art historian.
This play has far too much potential to be abandoned. Some thorough re-envisioning could make A Brush with Georgia O'Keeffe worthy of the brilliant artist whose tale it wants so desperately to tell.