Hanging Loose

24. October, 2011 Theater No comments


Show #95: Hanging Georgia, TheatreFIRST, October 9.

Paz Pardo in Hanging Georgia. Photo by Lance Huntley.

By Sam Hurwitt

It’s sad and heartening at the same time when someone tries to do something really challenging and interesting and it goes horribly awry—heartening because at least they tried to do something different and sad because it turned out so poorly.

That’s how I felt watching Hanging Georgia, Sharmon J. Hilfinger’s play about painter Georgia O’Keefe. A coproduction of Hilfinger’s own Bootstrap Theater Foundation and Oakland’s TheatreFIRST, the play focuses on O’Keefe’s relationship with gallery owner and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who eventually became her husband. It starts with their first meeting when an attention-shy young Georgia comes in to object to her drawings being hung in the gallery without her consent and ends abruptly with a “Dear John” letter.

I never saw Tell It Slant, playwright/producer Hilfinger and composer Joan McMillen’s play with music about Emily Dickinson that debuted at Mountain View’s Pear Avenue Theatre two years ago and came to San Francisco last year, but the same team’s O’Keefe play is perplexing at best. Forbidden by the O’Keefe estate to reproduce the painter’s work or quote her writing, Hanging Georgia nevertheless uses letters back and forth, presumably fictionalized, to tell much of the story. The problem—or one problem, anyway—is that both the letters and the dialogue sound terribly stilted.

All the artworks are represented by empty frames held by the cast, which is a fine theatrical device, but the goofy snarling and whimpering noises the actors make to represent the drawings not wanting to be removed from their perch are far too goofy. This is a problem throughout director Jake Margolin’s staging; it uses strategies of naked, deconstructed theatricality that could be very interesting: sound effects created in plain sight at the side of the stage, and makeshift props and set pieces used in all kinds of nonliteral ways (including a whole lot of jars). But combined with the artificial, cartoonish acting style that pervades the production, the overall effect is less artsy than amateurish. When someone walks across the stage with a cow skull on his lowered head, it’s hard to tell if we’re supposed to laugh or not.

Paz Pardo is an animated, hearty Georgia, and TheatreFIRST artistic director Michael Storm is relatively subdued as Stieglitz, though his rapturous recitations of various pet names for her quickly becomes wearying. Nick Allen’s art photographer Paul Strand is an overgrown child in a pipe and beard. Maryssa Wanlass’s Southern accent wavers wildly as Georgia’s pal Anita Politzer, but she displays surprisingly credible vulnerability as Paul’s wife. Roy Landaverde is exaggeratedly wide-eyed and earnest as a cowboy art student who becomes a lover of Georgia’s, and seems just as callow as Alfred’s well-off brother, a doctor. Bear Capron plays a variety of clownish society types, and Claire Slattery is quiet and fretful as another of Georgia’s lovers. Juliet Strong does a lot of wordless ululating, strumming a ukulele, and plays an attractive rich volunteer who provides one of many temptations for Alfred, none of which he resists.

There’s an occasional engaging line or moment, but the show feels misconceived from beginning to end.  The pace is very slow, making it seem much longer than its 140 minutes, and just when it seems like it might never end it cuts off very suddenly.  It’s not a play about Stieglitz, so we never get to know him particularly well, but as a play about Georgia it’s entirely defined by their relationship and has the effect of defining her the same way. However we feel about her getting out of her relationship with this guy who’s her most ardent supporter and yet a lousy husband, we can only be happy for her when she finally gets out of this play.

Hanging Georgia runs through October 30 at Thick House, 1695 18th St., San Francisco. http://www.theatrefirst.com

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment