In 1571, Venice is proud of their victory at the Battle of Lepanto. The Doge (played by Stephen Fedo) has commissioned Galactica (played by Sarah Chalcroft) to commemorate the event with a painting. Instead of a portrait of military triumph, the fiery Chalcroft portrays the carnage of the massacre. She uses 1,000 square feet of canvas to expose the brutality of war.
Originally, Playwright Howard Barker penned SCENES as a radio play. His dialogue driven piece uses descriptions and narrations to pull us into the maddening genius of the artist. Although we are watching Chalcroft’s process in creating the art, Barker intersperses passages scrutinizing her sketchbooks in connection to the work. It’s this historical look back during the process that makes his fictitious heroine real. Through Barker’s words, we see the art. And under the skillful direction of Andrew Root, we see the artistic sacrifice in creative expression.
The show has a lusty start as Cory Hardin (Carpeta) poses nude for Chalcroft. Sketching his form is an aphrodisiac for Chalcroft. And Hardin’s petulance fuels her fire more. Their relationship is tumultuous. Chalcroft’s intensity is palpable. She is erratically driven by her passion. Hardin and her art are merely the outlets for her all-consuming feelings. The outstanding Chalcroft gives a tireless performance. She is unwavering in her artistic quest. She is fixated on painting the truth. In her fury, she alienates her lover, her daughters, the government and the church. In the small theatre, her emotions cover the wall and fill the space. And as colorful as Chalcroft’s presence is, the most unforgettable moments are delivered by her in the dark stillness. In the pitch black theatre, Chalcroft’s disquieting voice beckons from the corner. The effect is chilling.
Root masterfully uses this intimate setting. His cast of fifteen never crowd the scene. When they are all present in the room, their placement is staggered or bonded in uniformity. The mob looks harmonious never clunky. With Movement Director Michah Figueroa, Root makes transitions seamless. Performers smoothly, quickly and regularly construct and deconstruct a scaffolding. Their in-sync movement has a reverence of the military folding a flag. The versatile scaffolding serves as a painter’s perch as well as a bed and an altar. The utilization for art-sex-religion makes the structure the symbol of the conflict. At one point, Chalcroft is attacked by drunken sailors. The scaffolding pivots wildly across the stage. The imagery is poignant as we realize how vulnerable the cheeky Chalcroft is in a world dominated by men.
SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION is the triumph of art over censorship. This play about the impact of the revolutionary spirit of an artist is a powerful tribute to the necessity of all art in broadening the human experience.
Running Time: Two hours and twenty minutes includes an intermission
At The Royal George Theatre, 1641 N Halsted St
Written by Howard Barker
Directed by Andrew Root
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru March 29th
Buy Tickets at http://theroyalgeorgetheatre.com/purchase.php?l=Chicago
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