Sunday, August 27, 2017

Festival of Living Art 2017 (review)

Spoilers Ahoy!

Zombie Joe's in North Hollywood is celebrating its 25th year--an impressive achievement for any theatre company.  One reason for that lies with a willingness to experiment and take chances.

Festival of Living Art is hardly a unique idea--a series of tableaus, actors recreating famous works of art.  Nor however is it terribly common.  The logistics of doing it frankly seem daunting!  All the more impressive when you get to actually see it carried off!

Describing the impact of it is a bit tricky.  You sit in a darkened theatre.  Music plays.  The lights come up.  You see...

A figure.  Or a set of figures.  Honestly since the performance lasted an hour I don't remember them all.  But I remember experiencing this living slideshow--images from famous works of art, including pop art like the original Star Wars poster--just appearing out of the darkness.  Or Botticelli's Birth of Venus.  A famous propaganda poster from World War II.  Mona Lisa as well as Dante and Virgil in Hell and the glorious sculpture of Eros and Psyche.  And Liberty Leading the People.

It sounds so simple.  Yet in truth it feels very much the way you imagine a really good art gallery visit should feel.  Because the light comes up suddenly, you get fierce flash of the image.  It almost hits you, and as the darkness returns an afterimage remains in your eye. Instead of trying to recreate each work perfectly, the ZJU crew goes for an essence.  Be it Kimpt's The Kiss or Picasso's The Old Guitarist, for a few seconds the broad strokes of these masterpieces suddenly...breathe.

And the effect does more than charm.  It enters like a taste of cold, crisp, and fresh air.

Kudos to the whole cast:  Charlotte Bjornbak, Susan Marie Chambers, Gloria Galvan, Brett Gustafson, Ian Heath, Esther Lane, Carson Frae Meyer and Cara Rosselot.  They create in that single hour a fascinating look into art, into the media of both painting and theatre, and as a result into the visceral nature of simply experiencing the world.

Festival of Living Art plays Sundays and Mondays at 8:30pm until September 4, 2017, at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre 4850 Lankershim (just south of the NoHo sign), North Hollywood CA 91601.

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