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O'Keeffe: Paintings from the Faraway Nearby
by Marki Shalloe

COMPANY : Theatre Decatur [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Theatre Decatur [WEBSITE]
ID# 2052

SHOWING : January 11, 2007 - January 24, 2007



One-woman show by Atlanta-area playwright about artist Georgia O'Keeffe

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Say hello to Georgia
by Rockdale Writer
Saturday, January 27, 2007
When the subject of a one-person show springs from faraway onto the nearby theatrical horizon, audiences might not be ready. This state may have named her but New Mexico claimed the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, just as Georgia claims newspaperman Lewis Grizzard whose impressionist plays to sold-out crowds at a Stone Mountain theatre.
If “O’Keeffe: Paintings from the Faraway Nearby” were performed in Taos, where the ground-breaking painter found her cow skulls, there would be lines out the door.
Here in Decatur, the audiences are so compact that the star of the show Josie Burgin Lawson, still wearing her costume and age makeup, has the luxury of saying a post-curtain call hello to each attendee.
I overheard her tell a second-nighter that the play written by Marki Shalloe will be part of the Georgia O’Keeffe celebration staged at the High Museum in Atlanta in 2008.
Only part of the show will take part; Ms. Shalloe will scale it down to one hour from its current 90 minute length.
More’s the pity.
What is she going to cut?
Surely not the self-deprecating moment when the artist says her work is unknown without the word September underneath an image, a reference to the calendar that introduced her to mainstream America.
Not the moment when she mocks an offstage curiosity seeker by mooning him.
“You said you wanted to see Georgia O’Keeffe,” she whines as the tourist flees.
Did I say it was a one-person show? It would be if Ms. Lawson did not invoke other characters from Ms. O’Keeffe’s nine-decade life. We meet her father, fresh off the boat from Ireland; we confront Ms. O’Keeffe’s husband, the photographer and impresario Alfred Steiglitz; we cower before the art teacher in whose studio she sketched her first male nude.
She soon abandoned figure class for still-life instruction, although she had mixed feelings about the plants that made her an art world star.
“I hate flowers,” she said. “But they’re cheap and they don’t move.”
Ms. O’Keeffe also hates nuns but loves ants, fun facts we learn in our collective role as a potential biographer to whom the artist addresses all her remarks.
It’s a difficult role to play.
We have only two possible responses: laughter as she rips apart critics, condescending men and Presbyterians; and tears as she relates how doctors cut her body and Steiglitz broke her heart.
But he can’t break her spirit.
“I know what I’m supposed to do,” O’Keeffe proclaims defiantly in front of her painting of a desert sky.
If you know what you’re supposed to do in life, this play makes you want to bolt from the theatre and do it whether it’s selling cars or applying paint to a canvas until it cannot hold one more stroke.
Just stay long enough to enjoy the performance by Ms. Lawson, a star well-chosen by director Jeannette Stinson.
Ms. Lawson, sometimes reminding one of Candice Bergen, creates the living portrait of a powerful woman still in her prime. Ms. Lawson herself has the power to let us believe when we know it’s only pretend. When Ms. Lawson urges us to go ahead and look at the desert, we actually turn our faces although we know we will only see the wall. The actress is so at ease entertaining her guest, about whom the character also has mixed emotions—sharing a confidence here, stabbing an unsatisfactory canvas there—it could easily be the reclusive artist herself offering us a ceremonial cup of absolutely dreadful yucca tea.
The set built and lit by technical director Mercury explores two aspects of the artist’s life. On one side is a wide open space on which Mercury projects images of cow skulls, skyscrapers and flowers that, as Ms. Shalloe writes in one speech, are linked forever with sexuality because Steiglitz shot nude photos of his wife in front of them. The other side is the home where the artist keeps her sketch pad, her brushes and a trunkful of O’Keeffe biographies.
Out of those biographies about a feminist icon of forbidding appearance, Ms. Shalloe has fashioned a real-life figure. In the process she has also crafted a dream monologue for any actress. It is crammed full of both matter-of-fact exposition and poetic rants, liberally peppered with memorable lines like “I named my car Hello.”
“O’Keeffe: Paintings from the Faraway Nearby,” co-produced with Theatre Gael who commissioned the work for its Marki Shalloe Festival last November, runs through Jan. 24 at Theatre Decatur. For tickets call (404) 373-5311. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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