Friday, February 20, 2009

Impressions of “Portrait”

Still fresh, before I have time to rephrase them into a muffled suck-up to the teacher.

Loved the way tension was built between the characters, especially in the scene where David first strips for Alice (and the intimate sarcasm that develops from it makes me feel like watching a hundred other encounters between the two) and the scene where Alice meets Nancy, with Richard and Hartley trying to douse the flames around them.

The secret theme is also well developed. It's not always on the forefront, but comes back every now and then to haunt you. And that box? Always under the bed, like a monster in a child's bedroom? There couldn't be a better McGuffin for the secret subplot. Pandora would be proud.

I think we didn’t get to see enough of Hartley to credibly establish him as a
ladies’ man. Maybe because his exploits were too much “in the other room,” a la Sophocles. I think the character would become more concrete if his affairs were more present (e.g., phone calls, Alice and Richard complaining about girls calling all the time). As it were, a million-dollar line like that “marry me” sounded a bit out of place.

In terms of production, I’d like to say that Alice had a tangible charisma. She filled the stage. I’m positive much of it is the merit of the actress (despite the screw-ups with the text), but I think the fact that she was dressed as an old lady, but mostly moved around like a young woman (with no sign of age but her neck bending forward) worked as an expressionistic device: she’s never aged inside.

The bits where people speak at the same time didn’t sound very natural to me. It was easy to understand what both were saying, and it seemed too apparent that each actor was interrupting his own sentences. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is something that only works in extremes: either the actors really talk at the same time, producing a cacophonic texture, or they talk in the typical fashion, upholding the illusion that people talk orderly in real life. I think it could also happen less often in the play.

Not sure how much the clothes racks at the sides of the stage contributed. They do make a good counterpart to the whiteness of the set, but they seemed more “fragmented” than the rest of the play in terms of language. Some hallway furniture, for instance, would have given the same benefits without the characters rubbing shoulders with clothes when they came to the front door.

Despite these issues, I think the play succeeds in drawing audiences in and keeping them interested until the end. I feel like seeing it again, and also like reading more about Alice Neel. I want to find out the stories that Jenny left out of the play.

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