B y J a n a R i v e r a
GUESS WHAT? THERE'S a new theater group in town doing fresh, new stuff. Coyote Ramblers Theater Group (don't let the name fool you--this is not an Old Tucson Studio knockoff doing cowboy skits) debuts with Dennis McIntyre's Modigliani, a vivid portrayal of artist Amedeo Modigliani and the Paris art scene during World War I.
In October 1995, a Modigliani painting sold for $3.5 million, but in 1916, Modigliani was offered only 75 francs for three paintings. Today, his paintings can be found on the walls of the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, but in 1916, they were found only on the walls of his studio.
Modigliani's simple, linear style, distinguished by elongated forms and large, flat areas of color, were out of fashion once Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque founded cubism in 1908. Those unwilling to embrace the new art form found themselves swept aside by dealers and gallery owners.
Modigliani offers a fascinating, historical glimpse of the truly suffering artist--no glitz, no glamour, just the gritty reality of survival as a painter. Modigliani lived a short, miserable life full of poverty, alcohol and drug abuse and illness. He died from tuberculosis in 1920 at 35, relatively unknown outside the Parisian art community.
Other members of that community portrayed in the play include Maurice Utrillo, known for his unique interpretations of Paris street scenes and his alcohol-induced breakdowns, and Russian-born Chaim Soutine, an alluring character with hints of severe emotional and psychological problems, known for his works of violent expressionism, including famous still lifes of dead chickens and beef carcasses.
Utrillo and Soutine were intriguing in their own right, but are wisely played down by McIntyre, who uses their presence to display the essence of the Paris art scene, while keeping his focus on Modigliani and his desperate struggle to be recognized.
Modigliani is curiously billed as "a passionate comedy." Passionate, no doubt; but comedy, no way. McIntyre certainly writes with wit, and there are funny lines and humorous moments, but Modigliani's situation is hopeless, agonizing and tragic, and there's no way to make that funny. Fortunately, in spite of the billing, McIntyre and Director Ken Tesoriere don't force it. Instead they offer an original drama with a dynamic approach.
Eugene Montes gives Modigliani life on stage with a performance full of passion and angst. With this performance, as with his last as Pale in Burn This, he toys with an over-eager method, but usually pulls back just in time.
The scene-stealer at every turn, however, is David Walker in the role of Maurice Utrillo. While some on stage seem to be working so very hard at the craft of acting, Walker seems simply to drop into the role and speak as the character. He exudes such magnetism there seems to be no reason to focus on anything else while he's on stage.
Carrie Hill in the role of Beatrice Hastings, Modigliani's lover, Aaron Brown as Soutine, and Ray Linafelter as the art dealer, all offer good, solid performances.
In a play with an aptness to bog down in the hands of an inexperienced director, Tesoriere demands a quick pace and rapid movement, in turn demanding perfect timing from the actors, which he receives.
Coyote Ramblers Theater Group's production of Modigliani continues at 8 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through December 3. All performances are at a.k.a. Theater, 125 E. Congress St. For information and reservations call 797-7779.
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