nytheatre.com review by Ethan Angelica
February 29, 2012
Rarely does a bright green, singing pear appear onstage with two world-renowned artists. That alone is reason enough to see Coosje (pronounced COH-sha), currently playing in FRIGID New York. But it is decidedly not the only reason that this half-musical, half-play, all-performance piece should be on your “must see” list. The show stimulates a beautiful and inspiring conversation about art, life and the intersections of both journeys that I am still brewing on days later.
For those not in the know, Claes Oldenburg is a Swedish-American sculptor who is best known for creating oversized replicas of everyday objects, and placing them in very specific spaces. His wife, and collaborator, Coosje van Bruggen, was an art critic who passed away in 2009 from cancer. One of their more iconic works is the famed Spoonbridge and Cherry in Minneapolis. Their art has a sense of heightened reality to it, and the production does that idea complete justice.
The play (for lack of a better word) begins with a video “Happening,” a smart nod to Oldenburg’s early work and a perfect prequel to the somewhat altered reality we are about to encounter. As a pear drops from the videoed table, Haley Greenstein appears onstage, pronouncing, “I’m a pear. Self-aware … I’ll live 1000 lives in one for every pear.” As our pear sets out on her adventure to find herself, Claes (Steven Conroy) and Coosje (Julie Congress) appear onstage, beginning their own quest through romance, art, collaboration, love and loss. Discussions of breaking new artistic ground and creating new creative contexts blend seamlessly into talk of the struggles and joys in love and work, and the journey we all take to find where we belong. The story never gets too intellectual to handle, but does inspire more questions than answers, which is precisely what the piece dictates.
The entire production is utterly delicious. Conroy and Congress give spectacularly nuanced, delicate performances, bringing exquisite depth and commitment to even the most absurd moments while gliding seamlessly from the intellectual to the emotional. Greenstein, with her fantastic voice and perky green dress (designed by Loring Taoka), is full of spunk and spice, and brings a beautiful humanity to her non-human role. Danny Tieger and Enrico de Trizio’s songs are a perfect compliment to the story, and Trizio’s live-mixing and projections are a smart addition to the augmented world of the show. Director Ryan Emmons and choreographer Olivia Wingerath stitch together reality and fantasy perfectly (the aging sequence brought tears to my eyes), and Ryan Hauenstein’s lights bring a joyful spark to the story.
Coosje is one of those rare, polished gems that are sometimes tough to find in a festival setting, and is the kind of show that makes you wish they had more than one hour to play. A strange, weird and wonderful happening in itself, Coosje prompts their audiences to wonder at what kind of journey we are on, and how our lives are pieces of art in themselves. It has already been extended into the FRIGID Hangover, and is more than worth a trip. You will walk out more “self-aware” yourself!