The Museum Project
Created by the performers. Directed by Nathaniel Deveaux. A Dive In! Production. At Havana Theatre on Wednesday, May 14. Continues until May 31
The Museum Project, a collection of short monologues, is a study in individuality. Though its success is mixed, its sheer diversity keeps it entertaining.
The creators began with an exercise from renowned American acting instructor Larry Moss: go to a gallery, look at the art until a character in one of the works inspires you, then write and perform a monologue as that person. The 11 theatre artists have taken as their source material work by well-known painters (Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Frida Kahlo), as well as less familiar ones.
The premise of Moss’s exercise is that everyone has a story to tell. And the success of each of these pieces depends on its creator’s skill as a storyteller. The actor’s fidelity to the source image can also provide visceral satisfaction.
Paul Herbert’s monologue, inspired by Gustave Caillebotte’s Play Room, has both of those strengths. Herbert’s character is an older gentleman trying to conjure an imaginary billiards table on which to drop a snooker ball. He personifies the painting’s ominously empty space as “Mr. Nobody” and tries to cover his sense of desperation with charming banter. Herbert’s text is playfully inventive, funny, and moving.
Sometimes the success of the piece depends primarily on the thrill of recognition. Both Urszula Petrykowska’s The Two Fridas and Dawn Henderson’s Orphan Girl in a Cemetery offer visually striking interpretations of their subjects.
Effective storytelling relies on the well-chosen detail, and the best pieces here provide memorable images. Too often, though, the writers lean toward vague generalities where vivid descriptions would serve better. There are numerous love stories, for example, in which we’re not given a meaningful sense of the beloved.
That’s not the case in the evening’s closer, Kasey R. Mazak’s piece inspired by Charles Marega’s sculpture The Wounded Soldier. In a spare, unaffected style, Mazak narrates the story of growing up in a war-torn country and of a chance encounter that preempts a suicide attempt. His writing is powerfully specific, and the simplicity of his story is riveting.
Director Nathaniel Deveaux tries to unify the evening by having the various characters enact little dumb-shows near the top of each act, but this feels gratuitous and hokey. Each piece is self-contained, and flies on its own strengths.