Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: An Artistic Triumph

Art allows the artist freedom of expression. Through their medium, an artist has the unique ability to evoke emotions through their masterpieces. But sometimes, expression is too much and art is censored. Whether it be from fear or power or whatever, censorship and art have a storied past. In Howard Barker’s masterpiece, Scenes from an Execution, an artist is commissioned to create a victory mural but when her truthful depiction strays from expectations, the powers that be strike her masterpiece down.
In PTP/NYC’s staging of the Barker piece, Galactia, a painter, is hired by Urgentino, the Doge of Venice, to paint a giant victory portrait reflecting the Venetians’ latest triumph at sea, in which his brother the admiral shall be represented. The sharp-tongued Galactia is at odds with the Doge from the start, but hits its peak when Galactia’s graphic painting is more of a realistic depiction of death than gallant victory homage of war. Scenes of an Execution is Barker at his finest. The narrative is clear. The story is sensational. And no matter when it’s presented, Scenes from an Execution is wonderfully relevant. Director Richard Romagnoli tells the story simply and allows Barker’s stimulating language take center stage. Though a few stray chairs thrown to the side distracted the action, Romagnoli kept the action moving and the stakes high. There may be elements of character amplification in Barker’s script but Romagnoli and his exquisite company kept them genuine and honest, allowing for them to resonate.
photo by Stan Barouh
This is a play about passion and fervor. Jan Maxwell has both. As Galactia, the centerpiece of the script and production, offered an astounding performances. She was captivating from start to finish, even when the stage was plunged into darkness. Maxwell delivered a performance to be remembered. The ensemble surrounding Maxwell gave some remarkable performances as well. As the Admiral with a hand obsession, Bill Army brought a spectacular hilarity to the character. Suffici’s ego reign provided much amusement that you hoped for a temper tantrum upon seeing the portrait. David Barlow played up the constant pity party of embarrassment in Carpeta. It’s no wonder others mocked Carpeta’s relationship with Galactia and his one-note paintings. Alex Draper as the Doge brought a similar demeanor to his character that has been seen in some previous PTP/NYC production but his scenes with Maxwell offered some stunning power play moments. Lana Meyer and Melissa MacDonald as Galactia’s daughters Supporta and Dementia respectively didn’t quite find the strength Barker gave them as these women, like their mother, were ahead of their time.
To bring this production of Scenes from an Execution to life, the creative team united modern and period as one. The scenic elements by Hallie Zieselman were sleek and mobile, allowing the multi-location piece to strive. Though it is disappointing that Romagnoli didn’t utilize the structure in the back more often. Lighting designer Mark Evancho played heavily with the idea of light, or lack there of, to provide for some fascinating looks. Layering in a bit more color in a seemingly grey-scale world about art could have been nice. The costumes by Jule Emerson with Mira Veikley kept with the marriage of styles and played with the form-fitting items for the wealthy and well-to-do and the flowing garments for those below. The ease of Cormac Bluestone’s sound design was faultless. Bluestone's work with space was dynamic, allowing you to feel as if Galactia were actually in a giant room. It was a welcome touch.
Howard Barker may not always be the most accessible playwright but Scenes from an Execution certainly is. And with recent wor;d events, Scenes from an Execution is poignant as ever. And if this is in fact Jan Maxwell’s theatrical farewell, this role is a perfect one to go out on top with.