City Paper is not for tourists.
The two-level stage at the Warehouse Theater is set up so that the studios of Jackson Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner, are simultaneously visible. But whereas you can’t really see Krasner’s creations, you can’t help but see Pollock’s. It appears to have been thus in life as well: Krasner, whose 2000 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art sought, not entirely successfully, to establish her as a painter of her husband’s echelon, was dwarfed by not only his art but his outsize personality. The popular image of Pollock—a boozer, a bruiser, slinging paint all over room-sized canvases with egotistical abandon—is toned down only slightly in the Hyacinth Theater Co.’s Fifteen Rounds With Jackson Pollock. The two-act confines itself to the period when Pollock created his most famous works—he called them “poured paintings”—and a good bit of it takes place in the Springs, N.Y., barn that served as his studio. Here Pollock (Ian LeValley) circles his canvases, which are spread on the floor, like a half-blind leopard who’s treed his prey but struggles to determine which tree it’s in. He’s tormented by jealousy, vanity, and a desire to please in his interactions with fellow abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning (William Cook), magazine photographer Hans Namuth (Frank Britton), and critic Clement Greenberg (Paul MacWhorter). Meanwhile, Krasner (Kerri Rambow) works silently in the background, drops in to offer encouragement, or cooks up some steaks (even remembering that Greenberg favors medium-rare). Despite some clunky dialogue (“So move over,
Picasso—it’s a whole new ball game!”), Bruce Clarke’s script is probably a pretty accurate depiction of the creative process, but he, or director Delia Taylor, should have considered that in the long, long scenes of Pollock pouring and raging and circling and swigging at the ol’ nemesis-in-a-bottle, he was flinging the door open to reviewers’ variations on “like watching paint dry.” This reviewer won’t go that far, but the play would have been stronger as a one-act, perhaps focusing on the encounter with Namuth, a superbly balanced scene in which both men blur the lines between artist and image-maker. Taylor directs with obvious sympathy toward the artist’s plight—and enough toward the audience’s that she keeps things snappy, except in those scenes where LeValley (who actually made the “Pollocks” onstage) moans at the moon and messes with his colors. But the production’s greatest flaw may well be that Krasner, its most sympathetic character, is played by its most adept actor. Rambow seems ever so real as Krasner not just because she’s not an obvious egomaniac like the fratty ab-ex boys but because she plays her scenes as if she’s conversing with her husband, not scoring points with eternity. LeValley’s pretty good—especially when he’s not talking to himself—but we tire of Pollock long before Krasner does.—Pamela Murray Winters