"To the true artist, one fact is the same as another," says the painter George Frederick Watts, struggling to find a way in which to paint Modesty in such a way that she is both veiled and naked. Perhaps that's why, in the midst of her more serious writing, Virginia Woolf set some private time aside to work on Freshwater, a gentle satirizing of art that contains absolutely no facts. In Anne Bogart's hands (cobbled together from the original 1923 script and Woolf's 1935 revision), the play serves as a lighthearted cry for freedom--there are no suicides here, and a divorce is handled by way of porpoise.
The problem Ellen Terry (Kelly Maurer) faces--while posing for her husband Watt's (Barney O'Hanlon) "Modesty Crouching at the Feet of Mammon"--is that nothing ever changes in this house. The philosopher Charles Hay Cameron (Tom Nelis) and his photographer wife, Julia Margaret Cameron (Ellen Lauren), are off to live in India--but not until their coffins arrive. Alfred Lord Tennyson (Stephen Duff Webber), the poet, has been reading Maud to his friends so often that the words have lost all meaning. When a handsome soldier appears, Lt. John Craig (Gian Murray Gianino), she jumps at the chance to actually be seen, heard, and loved--he is no self-absorbed artist. (Nor is the knowing maid, Mary Magdalen [Akiko Aizawa].)
Freshwater was designed to be performed and seen by Woolf's friends in the Bloombury Group, and the play's humor is directed mainly at self-aware artists. However, Bogart has added some musical numbers and beefed up the sight gags so as to make it a broader comedy. (Nelis might as well be auditioning for Monty Python; Webber is mimicking Will Ferrell.) In fact, the play has enough doors opening and closing to be a farce, save that for all the entrances and exits, nobody ever really goes anywhere or does anything. So far as ham goes, Bogart's seasoned Woolf's recipe as well as she can and it does stand at a lean 70 minutes, but you'd better not come hungry for much more because--true to today's starving artists--the table is pretty threadbare.
Monday, January 26, 2009