Exhibit This!--The Museum Comedies
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
July 15, 2007
A festival such as the Midtown International Theatre Festival serves a valuable function. It offers experienced playwrights an opportunity to experiment with new ideas, and gives new playwrights a voice. It is rarely (ever?) meant to deliver a production directly to Broadway. So we go ready for new ideas, and that's what I got in Exhibit This!, Luigi Jannuzzi's new compilation of short musings.
There are several things that make Exhibit This! worth seeing. The playwright's goal—the appreciation of art through comedy—provides an interesting vehicle. The words art and comedy are not usually seen in the same sentence. Jannuzzi brings quirky, imaginative perspective to the Metropolitan Museum's familiar holdings.
The writing is informed and often clever, plenty of play on words and contemporary references that add humor and a twist. Seen through the playwright's eyes, portraits talk to one another and they argue with the artists who painted them: people from Georges Seurat's Study for "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" disappear, Socrates in The Death of Socrates tries to escape but succumbs to reason, and Mary Magdalen disagrees with the interpretation of her portrait in The Penitent Magdalen.
There are others, perhaps too many others, and interspersed, a docent leads a group, imposing her own miserable life into the interpretation of the art before her. All told, there are six plays and six monologues, with the "misguided tour" adding six more parts. 18—that's a lot of skits at one sitting despite their being held together by a painterly thread. Under the direction of Elizabeth Rothan, the production does not result in a 90-minute play or even six short plays. It is an hour-and-a-half of skits. She opens solidly enough with a sharp decisive scene where the docent commands her lackadaisical group into decisive order so they move cleverly as a single unit. Timing and pace are among Rothan's strong suits. Partway through, though, the spool begins to unravel, and the thread ostensibly holding the pieces together—the docent—pops up unexpectedly or independent of the scenes featuring the artwork.
Jannuzzi's second goal—to create a hunger for a visual medium through a verbal medium—is a bit ambitious, as is the size of the cast. There are 12 who weave in and out of a backdrop of a sheet while slides of art appear as reference points. The acting is mostly very good, although periodically it falls into the enthusiastic genre of "Let's put on a show", leaving the audience in the dust. The actors are: Bruce Barton, Emily Beatty, Dustin C. Burrell, Kristin Carter, Jaron Farnham, Joseph Franchini, Billy Lane, Dawn McGee, Perryn Pomatto, Jasmin Singer, Peter Stoll, and Charles F. Wagner IV. Alan Kanevsky designed lighting and sound.