Saturday, November 10, 2012

Monet: Impressionism on Trial by Larry Stewart

Playwright Larry Stewart
Once again, I'm struck by the amount of talent there is in our little community.  When Larry Stewart heard that this year's Fine Arts Festival was featuring the works of Monet, he asked the Visual Arts Center if he could write a play to be performed as part of the Festival.  Of course!  Larry started doing a bit of research and decided to build his play around the controversy over whether to include Monet's work in the Official Salon of Paris.  The issue received a lot of media coverage at the time, so Larry decided to use a media mogul and his family as his protagonists.   When we meet our characters, the media mogul's son is buying a painting from Monet to give his father on the occasion of his 70th birthday.   Chaos and controversy ensue, and at the end of the day, Monet's work is granted admission to the Salon.   (The Official Salon of 1865 did in fact exhibit two seascapes of the Seine estuary painted by Monet.)

The evening was fun from start to finish.  Narrator Jerry O'Halloran warmed up the audience with lots of bad puns using artists' names.  (There was a piggy bank with a ribbon on his podium, and he somehow missed the opportunity to include a joke about "counting the Monet.")   He held up signs encouraging the audience to boo and hiss and clap along the way, and we were all too happy to comply.   

Bob Sween as Monet
Larry is a member of the Isles Yacht Club, and the cast and crew for the play were by and large folks from the Club.  Knowing the actors added another layer of fun to the show.  Bob Sween did a great job as Monet (and the audience got a good laugh when the set was changed during scenes and we saw his lines written on the easel).  Jim Nuzzo was a natural as the earnest reporter son of the media mogul (played by Ford Cooper).  Blaire Lovejoy (who has legitimate theater experience with the Charlotte Players) played the mogul's trophy wife, and entertained the crowd with her take on Marilyn Monroe's infamous "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" when it was time to sing happy birthday to her husband.  And Avice Sunter and Jay Stuart were terrific as Parisian newsboys tasked with reading some reviews from La Monde about Monet's work.  (There seems to have been a contingent that thought that Monet's painting was done by a child and that Monet was trying to pull a fast one.)

Avice Sunter and Jay Stuart
The play was both educational and entertaining.  Did you know that Monet served in the military in Algiers in 1861?   Ever the artist, Monet managed to paint during his conscription, engaging in an early study of light.  The press clippings that were read throughout the evening gave us a glimpse into the passion on both sides of the debate as to whether Monet was a legitimate artist or not.  Louis Leroy, one of the art critics of the day, is quoted as having said, "Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished that [Monet's] seascape."  Tell us how you really feel, Louie!

Larry peppered the dialogue with local references that had the crowd alternately laughing and groaning.  He managed to work in the SlipKnot, the Perfect Caper and the ubiquitous "It's huge, Caroline, huge" ads.  (If I never see another one of those, it will be too soon.)

All in all, it was a fun evening.  Who cares that the actors stumbled a bit over their lines?  It added to the frivolity of the evening.  I, for one, give everyone who was involved enormous credit for putting on a great show. 

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