Created and Directed by Tess Howsam
Written by T. Adamson, Blake Bishton, Simon de Carvalho, Eric Marlin, Matthew Minnicino, Ran Xia, Emily Zemba & Laura Rose Zlatos
Prodcued by Exquisite Corpse Company
Off Off Broadway, Immersive Play
Runs Through 9.25.16
Nolan Park House 17, Governor’s Island
by Emily Cordes on 9.5.16
Danny Wilfred, Anya Krawchek, Max Schloner, and Blaire O'Leary in The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte. Photo by Al Rodriguez.
BOTTOM LINE: A fittingly peculiar “house tour” through the mind, memories, and relationships of surrealist artist René Magritte.
Ever stare at a painting and wonder what its creator was thinking? If an artist’s work is window into his or her inner world, The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte offers an open door, as Exquisite Corpse Company takes us on a guided “house tour” through the life and mental landscapes of surrealist painter René Magritte.
The sculpture-decked porch of Governor’s Island’s Nolan Park House 17 becomes the portal to Magritte’s realm as over-enthused realtor Hilda (director Tess Howsam) greets us. Following his father’s death, she explains, Mr. Magritte is selling his childhood home, and now welcomes the audience in as potential buyers. René himself (Max Schloner) intercepts us in the house’s dusty parlor to take over the tour—a process compounded by the ghost of his drowned mother Regina (Blaire O’Leary) and Mr. Fish (Lee Collins), a pipe-smoking, anthropomorphic trout set on purchasing the property. Caught between Regina’s tirades and Fish’s determined haggling, René struggles to sell the house and release himself from the memories it holds.
We follow René through the building on a stylized journey of remembrance; in accordance with Exquisite Corpse’s collaborative process, each scene and room highlights a different memory and features the work of a different playwright and visual design team. Much of Magritte’s action centers on the artist’s relationship with his wife Georgette (Anya Krawchek), as we witness the couple’s sweetly awkward teenage courtship, complex artist-muse dynamic, mutual affairs, and strained attempts at reconciliation. Surrounded by political turbulence and the Surrealist movement’s creative freedom, René’s artistic and sexual curiosities turn to the lascivious Sheila Legge (a masked, stocking-clad O’Leary). Ashamed of his dalliance but justifying it as inspiration, René sends his friend Paul (Danny Wilfred) to comfort Georgette in his absence, and the two launch into an affair of their own. As these events, the pressure of his inheritance, and the specter of his mother’s suicide slowly bleed into his art and emotional life, René must confront his past in order to move forward. True to Magritte’s stylistic leanings, these memories unfold as a series of surreal vignettes. René, Georgette, and their respective lovers confront each other over a painted, wine-drenched feast (Emily Zemba’s The Magrittes Dine at Eight), waltz to the sounds of bombs (Ran Xia’s Fantomas), and wrestle with conscience, fish, and each other atop a massive sand dune (T. Adamson’s Day Trip).
Magritte’s trappings, however, belie a poignant psychological realism. Krawchek’s frantic Georgette is utterly convincing as a woman coming to grips with a progressively declining relationship. Tormented by René’s infidelity and guilt-stricken over her own, Georgette scrambles to find a foothold as her marriage crumbles beneath her—even when doing so drives the pair further apart. Quiet, brooding, and witty, Schloner’s René forms a fitting counterpoint, infusing such sequences as Eric Marlin’s Breakfast Scene and Blake Bishton’s A Fish Out of Water with taut pathos. Equally comfortable as the wordless Sheila and howling, bitter Regina, O’Leary lends striking articulateness to the former’s dancing legs and unexpected vulnerability to the latter’s creepiness.
The show’s sets are as unique and expressionistic as the performances they house, each room an art installation unto itself. Characters tumble into love on astroturf-lined playgrounds, tango beneath garlands of paper airplanes, face shattered hearts amidst broken-china mosaics, and navigate emotional currents in rooms filled with oyster shells and papier-mâché trout. References to Magritte’s iconic paintings (apples, pipes, bowler hats) appear throughout, connecting the show’s visuals as fluidly as its storyline.
Memories, like surrealist paintings, can be fragmented, arbitrary, and maddeningly symbolic. In both its subject matter and execution, The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte perfectly illustrates this principle, inviting us to explore the mansions of our own minds. Whether our personal realms house enchanting masquerades, tortured phantoms, or non-sequitur trout, Exquisite Corpse suggests that any of these elements may yet contain treasure.
(The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte plays at Nolan Park House 17, Governor’s Island through September 25, 2016. Running time is 1 hour 45 minutes, with no intermission. Performances are Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 4. Tickets are $15 and are available at exquisitecorpsecompany.com.)
The Enchanted Realm of René Magritte is created and directed by Tess Howsam. Written by T. Adamson, Blake Bishton, Simon de Carvalho, Eric Marlin, Matthew Minnicino, Ran Xia, Emily Zemba & Laura Rose Zlatos. Presented by Exquisite Corpse Company. Producing Director is Blair Leary. Assistant Director is Molly Bicks. Choreography by Danny Wilfred. Art Direction by Tess Howsam. Art Design by Ken Ard, Bibiana, Andrea Caldarise, Lavinia Roberts, Sara Sciabbarrasi, and Nick Stryker. Costume Design by Matsy Stinson. Lighting Design by Sara Gosses. Sound Design by Carson Joenk. Featured music by Simon de Carvalho & Gabe Medd.
The cast is Molly Bicks, Lee Collins, Anya Krawchek, Blaire O’Leary, Max Schloner, and Danny Wilfred. Guest Appearances by Alex Pucci and Mari Vial-Golden.