Sketchbook of an Artist
A Brush with Georgia O’Keeffe
Written by Natalie Mosco
Directed by Robert Kalfin
WorkShop Theater Company (http://workshoptheater.org/)
Equity Showcase (March 20-April 5: Wed-Sat @ ; April 5 @ )
Review by Adam Cooper
For those who wish to be educated on the life of famed 20th century female artist Georgia O’Keeffe, Natalie Mosco’s new play A Brush with Georgia O’Keeffe might be the ticket. More of a living biographical survey than a penetrating drama, this production, which highlights episodes throughout O’Keeffe’s career, illustrates clearly there’s more to her legacy and art than just painting flowers with symbolic feminine sexuality. Mosco, who stars as O’Keeffe and was in the original cast of the musical Hair, employs a similar exuberance for life, blossoming from flower child into a woman of flora, and hardly a garden variety one.
As portrayed in this production, O’Keeffe is her own kind of bohemian artist. She is very much into herself, her art, and “finding her myth.” She is little interested in other people or, apparently, in events outside her artistic life (two world wars pass by in time scrutinized in her early life with barely an acknowledgement). Mosco works hard to transcend the pop-image of O’Keeffe as someone who mainly painted Freudian sexual imagery in flowers. In fact, the flower series is mentioned briefly and O’Keeffe’s character is pointedly uninterested in (and even mocks) any notion of psychoanalytical underpinnings in them. She prominently states early on that she cares little if other people get any of her work.
Not surprisingly, O’Keeffe endures a personal and professional world not terribly supportive of the life she wishes to create for herself. David Lloyd Walters and Virginia Roncetti, the other two actors in the production, flesh out a wide swath of other personages that inhabit her life, most notably muse, mentor, and lover Alfred Steiglitz. She crosses the country living in and looking for landscapes, natural and otherwise, to capture on canvas, including well known, very urban cityscapes, famously making her mark in both the Northeast and the Southwest. Her privileged background yields to a teaching career, a painting life, and taboo-challenging, romantic relationships. Her troubled inner life ironically leads her to psychotherapeutic treatment during a dry period of her painting career. Yet throughout her life, she always hungrily returns to her agenda of making her inner experience actualized through her visually artistic endeavors.
This production probably best serves as a theatrical teaching tool on the life of a somewhat unsung American artist. The play’s title is apropos as this production offers more of a brushstroke on O’Keeffe, rather than a full dramatic portrait. Filled with a poetic sense of how an artist experiences the world coupled with numerous slim vignettes about her life experiences, the play is entertaining, educational, and even enchanting, but not overly moving or captivating. All three actors put in overtime giving sturdy, energetic performances. In fact, the limitation of just three performers is too economical as the requirement of playing numerous roles of diverse ages with only minor modifications in costume and overall ambiance weakens the attempt to present fully-formed scenework.
Robert Kalfin’s deft though narrowly-focused direction makes thorough use of the 25-seat jewel-box-sized theater space. Props particularly go to the production crew who mightily shoulder the theatrics that brought the multiple scenes and scenarios to life. Kevin Judge’s set design features a cubist-like horizontal white rose backdrop upon which projections of O’Keeffe’s work, locations of her adventures, and photos of the actual persons portrayed are illuminated. Paul Hudson’s lighting design and Margaret Pine’s sound design are the production’s heroic workhorses, tirelessly creating situations, establishing locales, and eliciting mood for the play’s wide-ranging vignettes.
Copyright 2008 by Adam Cooper
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