By Joan Baum
The Perseid meteor shower may have just peaked, but Guild Hall has assembled a stellar spectacular for Saturday night, September 1 when the stars will be out in full force for a premiere event called “The Painting Plays.” Not only will they be shining as major players in the literary, visual and performing arts world, but they will be forming a constellation that night – becoming part of an unusual configuration linking art and theater in staged readings of plays inspired by paintings that will show what producer Patricia Watts calls a “synergy” of the arts.
The evening, a celebration of Guild Hall as a theatre and a museum, pairs five writers and five painters (Eric Fischl, not paired with any script, will be the title artist). Except for playwright Marsha Norman, whose “`Night Mother,” a scene from which will be staged and paired with Clifford Ross’s “Hurricane XLIX,” the other participating literary artists will be offering new or newly revised work. As the staged readings are performed, a screen will project the associated painting, and recorded classical pieces by Billy Joel will provide “musical interludes” between the sets, piano pieces he calls “Fantasies and Delusions.” The average time for each play is 15 minutes. Watts says she wants the opening piece to be “something thought provoking, something that would make a nice statement and engage people,” and the closing piece to “tie up the evening and end on an upbeat note.”
Lucy Boyle’s “Cloud Life,” the opener, is paired with John Alexander’s “Cloud Life.” Joe Pintauro’s “Exxon Eats the Odalisque” joins Eric Dever’s “Exxon Eats the Odalisque”; J. Stephen Brantley’s “Swan Song” meets Jane Wilson’s “Lingering Blue: Bridgehampton,” and the closer, Jenny Lyn Bader’s “The Love Experiment,” is paired with April Gornik’s “Mirror Forest.” Participating actors include Blythe Danner, Melissa Errico, Tovah Feldshuh and Harris Yulin.
Watts is delighted that this “marriage of various writers and painters and performers,” a labor of love, will be happening over the Labor Day Weekend. Last year’s planned celebration for Guild Hall’s 80th anniversary, had to be cancelled because of Hurricane Irene. Fewer stars are involved in “The Painting Plays,” Watts says, but she thinks this production has more “thematic cohesion.” As for the pairings, “they worked out beautifully, no overlapping.”
Indeed, J. Stephen Brantley says the minute he saw Jane Wilson’s “Lingering Blue” he “knew instantly” that he wanted to be paired with her, since “Swan Song” was inspired in part “by a remarkable springtime sunset on Sam’s Creek in Bridgehampton.” His play, written and originally performed “in and around a swimming pool,” takes a “mostly comic look at the culture clash between the Hamptons’ moneyed summer folks and those who cater to them,” and he hopes the audience will appreciate the fun.
Blue also suffuses Eric Dever’s large oil on burlap, “Cloud Life,” which Joe Pintauro admires for what he sees as its “struggle” between Dever’s signature “reductive” color minimalism and the artist’s morphing into “representation” here, a huge white cloud pulsing out and away from dark patches of sky.
Dark, in another sense, affected John Alexander, whose “Exxon Eats the Odalisque” was painted in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. When she saw this painting, says Lucy Boyle, she was “immediately struck by its sense of outrage.” The odalisque of the title, “a female nude in a gilded frame, is being snatched by a giant claw and spattered with oil. Exxon and companies like it had defiled natural treasures as irreplaceable and priceless as the masterpieces of Western art, or more so, and I was drawn to this metaphor in the work and its extension for a stage play.” In her dark comedy, “a man-made disaster comes to the Hamptons, and an unlikely victim shows up at a couple’s door.”
For Jenny Lyn Bader and April Gornik, a pairing took a little more time. Bader says she looked at “hundreds of paintings by many artists,” but in “Mirror Forest” with its “luminous surface and untold depths.” she found a “heartbreaking resonance” and sensed a “shared sensibility” with Gornik, a feeling that they both explored worlds of “enchantment,” “heightened reality” and “elevated intensity.” Although not subscribing fully to the “magic” the playwright says she intuited in “Mirror Forest,” Gornik did find herself “in strong sympathy” with Bader’s artistic viewpoint. As she worked on “The Love Experiment,” Bader said she found that the painting “informed the emotional journey as the characters confront their fears and think about looking at what they see differently. It’s a painting that can affect you, even change you just a little bit in a way you don’t even realize. On its best nights, theater does that too.”
The Painting Plays” runs for one night only, Saturday, September 1. The John Drew Theater in the Dina Merrill Pavilion at Guild Hall, 8 p.m. (631) 324-0806. Orchestra and VIP Reception: $125/ $120 members; Orchestra, $75/$70 members; Balcony, $50/$48 members. : :