Saturday, January 17, 2015

What Will Be, Will Be

Let's spend Friday night looking at life, shall we?

In the case of the Anderson Gallery's new exhibit "Myron Helfgott: An Inventory of My Thoughts," it was a wide-ranging retrospective covering the 45-year artistic career of one of my favorite curmudgeons. I can say that because I've known Myron for 15 years and besides, he'd say it about himself.

Despite the multiple hours and afternoons spent in his studio interviewing him for my profile, here, in Style Weekly, I'd only seen a fraction of the work that made it into the show. So tonight's three-level exhibit was as much a surprise to me as to the rest of the world.

In 1971's "Salute," hands cast in lead were captured in a box with a lead flag on top. Lead, so different a material than the plywood and paper pieces he's been creating the past few years. Pieces such as "Windows" from 2013, a segmented view of the Kroger parking lot from his condo.

I was captivated by "We Share the Same Interests," a mixed media piece from 1981-82, comprised of a metal figure of a woman that Myron had taken all around town - Monument Avenue, MCV, VMFA - and had himself photographed with. The dated photos were part of the piece and provided a glimpse into Myron long before I met him in 2000.

Immediately recognizable was "Waterfall after Duchamp" from 1990 because it had been in the foyer of his condo when I'd first interviewed him. Here the motorized waterfall took its place among the many pieces powered by small motors.

"33 years and 6 months" was another lead piece, this one from 1970, showing a pair of men's underwear. "Don't look at that too long. People will talk!" a man stage-whispered in my ear as I gazed at it.

Listening to reactions from the ever-growing crowd, I overheard, "Phenomenal work" and "This is the shit, man. The shit!" High praise, indeed.

I went through all three floors of Myron's art twice, knowing full well I'll need to come back when the crowds are gone to enjoy it all without the socializing distractions. And they were many tonight, with all that old '70s VCU art crowd in attendance.

When I finally made it back to the tent, there was Myron, wine in hand, holding court. He pinched my cheek, he hugged me and he thanked me profusely for my article, especially thrilled that I hadn't talked about his work.

Who needs to try to describe astonishing art when there's a crabby old man with a lifetime's worth of opinions to share instead? Not that the work doesn't tell an amazing story of a man who never stopped evolving, but anyone with eyes can see that.

People were still pouring in to the gallery when I left to meet my theater date for dinner at Bistro 27, finding him at the bar with a Cosmopolitan in hand. The hostess raved about how cute my tights were and seated us with a great view of Adams Street. I kept my meal simple - Caesar salad with grilled shrimp - to offset a decadent chocolate torte for dessert.

Over dinner, we covered the multiple months' worth of life that had happened since we'd last gone to a play together. We compared notes on "Mame," made plans to see "Sister Act," exchanged Christmas vacation trip stories and restaurant gossip. Then we high-tailed it to Richmond Triangle Players for another kind of look at life.

It was opening night for 5th Wall's production of "The Lyons," a black comedy I'd first seen a sample of at the 5th Wall preview party last August. Even that snippet had been enough to see the potential of the play about nothing more than family relations, which is to say, everything.

But what a family! In a magnificent brown curly wig, Jacqueline Jones chewed up the scenery and spit it out as Rita, the matriarch of the Lyons family. This is an actress I've seen in all kinds of roles and never have I seen her so completely inhabit a character. She will be undoubtedly be honored come awards time next year for this part.

When her dying husband (the always excellent Alan Sader) muses that he may go to hell, she shoots him down succinctly. "What have you ever done to go to Hell? Who are you?" Nobody in this family seems to have a kind word for anyone.

The first act was mesmerizing as the parents had their adult children (a gay writer and recovering alcoholic mother with two kids) come to the hospital room to learn that their father was dying. Despite the seriousness of it, the family immediately devolves into bickering and bringing up old family issues. Meanwhile, Rita peruses decorating magazines, planning to redo their tawdry living room once husband Ben is dead.

No one feels comfortable when they're intimate. 
Your mother used to vomit a lot.

Watching this family argue - the father endlessly cursing because he has nothing to lose, listening to Rita criticize her dying husband and messed-up children - was like eavesdropping on a majorly dysfunctional family. Awkward but utterly compelling.

Significantly, playwright Nicky Silver even weaves in the particular bond of siblings; they may not like each other or respect each other's choices, but they share secrets that Mom and Dad were never privy to. That's real life.

Romance is a treacherous arena.

At intermission, my friend and I discussed how director B.C. Maupin had created a tightly wound production that never ceased to elicit reaction from the audience, whether we were squirming in our seats, anticipating discomfort, embroiled in embarrassment or mortified at how this family treated each other.

Meanwhile, a cadre of black-clad crew miraculously turned the hospital room set into a much, larger studio apartment, as big a set change as I've seen at RTP, a feat only believable if you saw the transformation.

After the first act, my friend had commented on the robust laughter coming from the back of the room and, sure enough, the Man About Town (the source of that laugh) stopped by to discuss Myron's show and our enjoyment of the play we were seeing.

Writing short stories is like selling Victrolas.

If the first act had set some people's teeth on edge, the second began with a scene uncomfortable in about a dozen more ways. As it unfolded with missed signals, over-reactions and brutality, little of the dark humor remained.

The set was again changed back to the hospital room, this time without an intermission, but it was accomplished briskly and efficiently while the audience listened to "Que Sera, Sera." It was so impressively done that the crowd broke out in spontaneous applause for the crew.

Since when do you talk like a character from "Cagney and Lacey"?

The final scene begins with the father dead, but the remaining members no less unhappy or rude to each other. Hello, real life.

Watching the widow tell her son and daughter that she's decided to go on with her life in a manner that appalls them becomes one of the most satisfying moments in the play. Changing from power pumps to pink slides before a flight to Aruba, Jones makes a compelling case for delayed happiness after a loveless marriage that's almost worth standing up to cheer for.

Some people are happy, some people are lonely, some people are mean and sad. That's the way of the world.

As 5th Wall's production so ably demonstrates, it's every person's choice to decide which of those people they want to be. As if I weren't already in the first category, a superbly-executed production such as this one makes me even happier because Carol Piersol is back at the helm of a cutting edge theater company in Richmond.

Here's to long, artistic lives. Fortunately, they seem to thrive in this town.

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