Friday, June 29, 2012

All Life is Dancing

This geek was at the Firehouse Theater tonight because of Edward Albee.

That's right, the playwright of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" and the man who once said,"What could be worse than getting to the end of your life and realizing you hadn't lived it?" (answer: nothing) was at the root of it.

Apparently back in 1999 at a Firehouse Theater fundraiser, he'd challenged them to hold playwriting contests to encourage new works.

They'd taken him up on it and the result was the annual Festival of New American Plays, which began tonight.

On the bill was "Nureyev's Eyes" by David Rush about the friendship that developed between painter Jamie Wyeth and dancer Rudolph Nureyev back in the '70s.

It wasn't an historical drama but an imagining of what might have happened during their many encounters.

After all, it wasn't like reality TV was around to document it back then.

The premise was deceptively simple; Wyeth wanted to paint Nureyev, who didn't think a dancer could be captured on canvas.

Over years of male bickering, vodka, apple pie and endless sketching, an eventual friendship developed.

The title comes from the artist's belief that "The truth of the man sits in the eyes."

As it does for the woman. Just look.

Because it was a staged reading, the two-actor play required a narrator tonight to provide locations and actions.

Matt Bloch played Nureyev with a believable Russian accent and the wariness of a man who'd defected and couldn't stop watching his back.

One of my favorite local actors, Dean Knight, played Wyeth with the understated persistence of a young artist who came from a family of very well-known artists and had a lot to prove.

Despite it being a reading and not a fully staged production, the interplay between the two worked beautifully

Salty language abounded ("Ballet for the mind is always better than ballet for the dick").

Artistic truths came out ("I don't do the painting. The painting does me").

So did laugh-out-loud humor ("It's not a sin to be straight. Only limiting").

It was even possible to learn about ballet ("All dance begins with the belly").

With a passion for both art and dance, I found it difficult to decide which character appealed to me more.

True, Nureyev was egotistical and guarded, but when asked when the happiest day of his life was, he answered, "Tomorrow."

That's a beautiful kind of optimism. And he could dance.

But I also  found Wyeth's character irresistible.

His frequent references to his beloved wife Phyllis made it clear that he saw her as the center of his life and the reason for not only his happiness, but everything he was.

That's a fascinating man, in my opinion.

At the talkback after the play, I was intrigued to learn that some people hadn't known who Wyeth or Nureyev were.

Not that we don't all have holes in our cultural history knowledge, but Nureyev had been considered "the Beatles of ballet," so I was a little surprised.

I'm sure I wasn't the only one eager to go home and look up the picture Wyeth eventually painted of Nureyev in 1977, who'd complained that the artist hadn't gotten the eyes right.

Because of course he had to complain about something. He was Russian.

The audience was pretty unanimous in thinking that this was a strong play (and it plays again Saturday night) which would make a worthy offering to produce at a future date.

And since past Festival of New American Plays winners have gone on to be produced in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, I'd say Firehouse should jump on it before someone else does it first.

The way I see it, Nureyev said it best.

"What good is potential if it's never made concrete?"

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