JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK: BLEAK AND BLACK AND FUNNY AS HELL
DECEMBER 1, 1997: Some of my fondest memories involve my Italian dad, a case of stout, and a tape of Tommy Makem & the Clancy Brothers. I have to admit that most of the lyrics have dimmed a bit in my mind, due to the aforementioned case of stout, but I am still struck by the double edge of those Irish songs. Born of some of the worst times in history, they are still frighteningly cheerful, as if all the death and famine were a fond childhood memory. One song in particular stands out, something about a husband and his philandering wife. Separately, they both decide to kill themselves, he by hanging, she by a more bloody approach. The lyric lilts on: "He went to hell, but his wife got well, and she's still alive and sinnin'. For the razor blade was German-made, but the rope was Belfast linen."
If you can find the humor in a double suicide, then Juno and the Paycock, produced by Different Stages at The Acting Studio, is the play for you. This Sean O'Casey script flits through the tragic and touching double edge of Irish life, manipulating both high drama and low farce to tell the tale of a tenement family. "Captain" Jack Boyle is the nominal head of this group, but it is his wife Juno who seems to do all of the work since Jack would rather spend his time sipping lager and telling tales. Johnny, the son who was injured for Ireland, and Mary, the daughter who is on strike for the principle of it, are trying to grow up and make their way on this tumultuous isle. Fortunes reverse when the Captain inherits some cash and learns who his real friends are.
Director Karen Carver-Sneed has done wonders with the script, finding the light moments in this dark world while knowing when to punch the point home. Wilson Wade shines as the Captain, a man who is forced to hide a broken spirit with a carefree attitude. Joseph Gibson and Amy Gamber as the Boyles' adult children are smashing, riding the roller coaster of these characters' lives in fine style. Carver-Sneed has also found some winners for the supporting cast of the Captain's friends. Henry V. Fitzgerald, Jr, Diana D'Emmeraude, and Gay Gaughan-Hurst turn in eye-catching performances despite their lack of lines. Michael Stuart's set simply adds to the atmosphere, finding small touches to capture the script's air of frivolous desperation.
While Juno and the Paycock is largely full of solid performances, accents,
and theatricality, it is not a production for those easily wrought by the misfortunes
of others. O'Casey's play is bleak and black and funny as hell to those who can appreciate
the pathos of a good Irish ballad.
SPIRIT PLACES AND FACES: THE ESSENCE OF FEMALE FORMS
One of the few truths in art, one thing you can count on as long as the visual arts exist: There will be nudes. The human body's inexhaustible positions and expressions provide a vast realm of inspiration for artists, as well as an easily accessible and wildly diverse subject for them to explore and examine. For whatever reason, the nudes are almost always female. Whether artists are driven by the sublime curves of the female form or the ancient taboos still associated with a woman's body, suffice to say that a study of nudes is often a study of feminine design.
Thus, we have "Spirit Places and Faces," an exhibition of nudes with its fair share of female figures au naturel. Almost an entire wall is covered with paintings of bare-breasted women settled pensively on sofas and nestled longingly on chairs - a veritable panorama of unrobed still lifes.
Rachel Koper's Heroic Nia depicts a woman sitting erect, with her hands resting on her lap. Her posture is tense, her back arched, and her shoulders lifted a little. The most magnetic part of the image is not the woman's bare skin, but her face. Her eyes are fixed on something in the distance, one eyebrow slightly raised in a manner both curious and cautious. Her lips are sealed, somewhat disapprovingly and indignantly. Koper uses a few swashes of watercolor to capture the essence of a woman caught in an anxious, guarded moment.
Brigitte Edery's paintings are equally compelling, comprising a majority of the show's unclad figures. It's ironic that, among all these beautiful bodies lazing about, one of the most striking works is Gitane, which features a fully-clothed woman. Gitane is a woman, tall, slender, and curvaceous, wearing a fitted blue dress with tiny straps and a flouncy skirt below the knees. She leans against her hands, which are clasped behind her lower back, and her long golden hair flows over one shoulder. A small glint at the bottom alludes to a ring on one of her toes, peeking out from sandals. Her relaxed look and half-smile implies an acceptable evening, one perhaps being held up by an escort caught in conversation or a valet in search of a car. There's no discernible detail in the mesh of colors that comprise the background, leaving this woman's situation solely to the viewer's imagination.
Perhaps that's the draw of the piece - the suggestion of a narrative. In a large
collection of nudes, pieces often begin to blend together, losing their impact and
taking on the look of mere figure drawings. Among these, a work like Gitane
seems to leave more to the viewer's discretion and urges the viewer to explore its
possibilities. Is the light cast upon Gitane's face from a neon sign or from the
glow of candles on a table? Is she standing in Paris? New Orleans? Gitane
is a study of the female form and then some: a female form in the midst of a story.
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