Can art be made about artists?
It can be done, but it has to be done cleverly and creatively. It has to show the artist in a new light: either by humanizing him or finding some other way to help us answer the question “why should I care?” It should not, ever, be a masturbatory look at the life of an artist, and it should never reach for pity.
Jeremy Pace and JR Russ play what I assume to be themselves, though they are credited as Artist and Defendant essentially. I’m not sure why: there is never anything to defend, and they only interact once. In that scene, Russ questions Pace as to why he wants to be an artist and what he does to promote himself.
For the rest of the play, the audience hears monologues from Pace or Russ, while the other sits in the dark. Russ’s are about being an arts administrator and becoming frustrated with the lack of advocacy for the arts. He’s a little difficult to understand at times. But otherwise, he’s unoffensive and just slightly boring.
It’s not that I don’t think the man can act. He shows flashes and glimpses of being extremely competent. It’s that he’s not acting. He can act; he’s just not doing that.
Jeremy Pace is a little more heavy-handed. And, by that, I mean his hands are made of stone. He tells the story of being a gay man drawn to the arts in high school in rural Missouri. It’s a difficult struggle, and I don’t for a second doubt it wasn’t. But statements like, “I am an artist because I have no other choice” are cringe-worthy and takes away from his believability.
It’s not that I don’t think his character thinks that: it’s that it feels like he’s whining about it. A woe-is-me, life-is-hard diatribe after woe-is-me, life-is-hard diatribe just wears the audience down.
Pace offers some poetry, and it’s clear he’s a fantastic poet. But they stretch on for long periods of time, which further splinters the performance. What is this actually about? It’s a collaboration in which the actors and writers didn’t collaborate. At least, it feels like that.
Things that probably should have been left out: comparing the fight for higher pay for artists to the fight for the right to marry, the monologue that questions why artists have to work outside of art to support themselves but doctors and lawyers don’t need to work outside of medicine and law.
Personally, I love the arts. I’m attempting to make a living in them as well, but I’m not blind to the fact that business works in a pretty simple way: supply and demand. The play makes it sound like no one on stage has considered this fact, that artists are just paid less because people are evil.
Also, a great deal of the play is read off paper. Honestly, this is just unacceptable. It works for the poetry, but if you want to be taken seriously as an artist to the point that you compare it to the medical profession, maybe you should learn your lines.
Russ makes some good points about the nature of arts advocacy and how it’s somewhat lacking, but these points get buried by self-pitying, self-aggrandizing, masturbatory monologues that alienate the audience even further from the very point that’s being made.
A is for Artist has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012, at The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave, NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Travis rates this 1 out of 5.