Series 6.2: Paint on Canvas
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
August 23, 2009
If only more artists would follow the lead of Becca Hackett and Katherine Randle and just get to the point already. In a surprisingly expansive piece for such a short work of theatre, they have tackled some of life's larger issues and succeeded at making their new creation both relevant and enjoyable (in just over half an hour, no less!). Not that the piece couldn't be doubled in length and still be high in quality and voice, but it just isn't necessary. It is a perfect example of what happens when artists have something to say and, more importantly, know how to say it while neither rushing nor indulging themselves.
With a description that includes "playful battle" and "unrestrained, paint-slinging performance," I thought I was going to see a performance art piece. Instead I was treated to a balanced, thoughtful script and a well-paced, playful-yet-poignant performance. Hackett and Randle do indeed paint a canvas during their performance (three mirrored surfaces suspended at different angles permit the entire audience to see the canvas on the floor), but the focus is the words. Like a late-night conversation with new-found friends, this work is a meandering walk with an air that is sometimes playful, sometimes pensive. These two actors touch on a wide range of topics: the nature of life's disappointments and the intestinal fortitude required to rebound from them, the hazards of modern-day labels and testing scores, the potential of art to confuse or illuminate or challenge, relationships, terminal illness, the fear of dying alone, the impact of Western thought on what it means to be human, the nature of "art-as-capitalist-machine," the dangers of cynicism, the joy of shopping for your wedding dress, self-awareness, self-loathing, self-love. It sounds disconnected and overboard, but they somehow manage to pull it off. It is a testament to these two artists as both writers and performers that this piece works as well as it does, with all its humor and pathos intact. While it could be developed into a longer work, I doubt it would be improved by doing so.
The activity of painting actually becomes more important than the painting itself (although it is an interesting hodgepodge of potent images). It allows them to move in and out of moments, scenes, and thoughts while also delivering a central visual element that supports the playful, introspective nature of the words themselves.
The direction here, by Ilana Becker, is also excellent. The pacing serves the piece well and the movement in space is orchestrated such that it never feels overtly choreographed, which is essential to making this script come alive. Alan Edwards's lighting design is effective at allowing subtle shifts in the conversation, and Michele Spadaro's minimalist scenic design (including the well-placed mirrored surfaces) is just what the work needs. I only wish they had more room and a larger canvas.
This work examines human nature, with all its desires, foibles, apparent shortcomings, and triumphs, and it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre. Near the end, one of the actors looks up and says, "Something witty and profound!" Well, ladies, whether you stumbled on it or saw it in the distance and made a beeline for it, I would have to agree you have discovered just that. Brava.