In the Arts world, there are a few genres, I’ve discovered, that I simply don’t have the emotional sensibility or intellectual perspective to sufficiently appreciate. Classical Ballet, Improvisational Modern Jazz and the majority of abstract paintings, represent a few members of the cast in the off-off-off-off off-Broadway play, entitled: Things Susannah Just Doesn’t Get. You might recognize it better by its working title, I Apologize, That Eye Roll Was Totally Uncalled For. Despite trying to expose myself to, educate myself about, experience and FEEL these art forms, try as I might, some Art just totally eludes me. Combining my lack of understanding for “red” paint on a canvas and calling it Art with a $35K price tag, moody, condescending artists prone to heady, philosophical outbursts and a 90 minute play with no intermission, Red, at San Jose Stage was kind of a perfect storm of things I don’t get or just don’t like. But, let’s analyze that outcome, shall we?
When I examine the piece I have to say, the show is performed exactly the way I think it’s supposed to be. With loud eruptions of passion and outrage that come out of left field. With pomposity, angst, big words and old testament quotes. With pretension on top of pretension on top of oh-so-very-thick layer of pretension. From the obvious RED lighting, to the selection of classical music underscoring particularly central thematic speeches, this show is drama in big bold letters, underlined with lots of exclamation points. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. I just didn’t feel , with all that over the topness, that the play gave me anything personally to think about or react to that was different or unexpected.
The performances are solid. It’s a no holds barred affair with the cast committing to getting messy with real paint and plenty of physicality, but here again, I’ve seen both these actors before and while good, this was similar to previous performances. While impossible to fault, the acting just didn’t seem terribly fresh or powerful in the way I know they both can deliver.
And so, perhaps we can call into question then, the words they had to speak. The arguments of this piece which address the conundrum of starving artist versus popular artist, artist process, art trends, selling out, and the like are not original and not even compellingly written. There are several other plays that address these topics in a more palatable way and I struggled to find something provocative or challenging to no avail. The exchanges for the most part seemed “correct” and neat while shouted through a melodramatic megaphone. But, this is a story about a real man and therein lies where life must imitate the art.
A man like Mark Rothko who lived to make the statement of “art for art’s sake” might indeed have a natural flare and a pomposity about him. Egos prove beneficial in some professions, truth be known. And, when the consummate ARTISTE happens to become wildly successful on a commercial level and face the cheapening of his life’s work, obviously the man is going to go a bit bonkers. This play, from its structure and themes to the creative teams interpretation may have simply been presenting an authentic as well as metaphorical account of this man. So what it might come down to is, maybe they were telling a story, real as it was, that I just didn’t care to hear. Perhaps, I much prefer to look at art through my own eyes, my own experiences, aesthetic and prejudices. Perhaps my real apathy for this piece stems from the fact that I don’t want to know what a temperamental asshole the artist was and how ridiculously hypocritical he was and how terribly he treated people when I look at his art. Even if I did like his art, and sadly I’m not sophisticated enough to be moved by the pieces he created, part of me couldn’t enjoy it, knowing he was overly needy, caustic, unkind and obsessively argumentative. Perhaps I’m unable to separate the man from his art and no matter how important his work was to the art world, knowing how obnoxious and troubled he was, doesn’t make me like his art any more or feel sorry for him. Either way for me this was a wash.
So, what did this show do for me? Not much. Red has been weighed, it has been measured and it has been found wanting. But, pretentious biblical references aside, I fully acknowledge I’m not the target audience for this piece and plenty of people in the audience opening night seemed to have a transcendent connection to this piece. I’m glad they enjoyed it, because this redhead gives Red 3 ½ jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for what I can only assume is an honest and quite affected look at an artist and the artistic process. Red plays through March 3rd at The Stage in downtown San Jose.
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