Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Scenes from an Execution (Potomac Theatre Project)

(Jan Maxwell as Galactia and David Barlow as Carpeta. Photo by Stan Barouh)

BOTTOM LINE: A fictional story set in 15th century Venice with a somewhat classical feel and a somewhat academic script; it's about the struggle for artistic integrity against conservative authority. Jan Maxwell's performance is awesome and worth seeing, but the play might be too wordy for those adverse to historic dramas.

Potomac Theatre Project is a Washington D.C. based company that now brings its summer repertory season to New York, presented at the Atlantic Theatre Company's Stage 2. PTP's artistic mission involves presenting work that is thought-provoking and revealing, dealing with culturally relevant issues. This summer, they offer 2 nights of entertainment–the first includes 2 one-acts, and the second includes one full play, Scenes from an Execution.

Scenes from an Execution
takes place in 15th century Venice. It's the story of the painter Galactia (played by Jan Maxwell). Galactia has been commissioned to create a giant mural to be displayed in the city about Venice's triumphant (yet incredibly bloody) Battle of Lepanto. Galactia refuses to compromise truth, and therefore paints a gorey and unsettling portrait of the battle even though the heads of the city decide it's way too offensive for the masses. She won't relent and ends up being thrown in jail as punishment for disobeying.

The story is conflict-laden and the script is witty and playful. A lot happens and it's a lot to digest in a sitting. I recommend it for people who like academic entertainment because it occasionally feels like a history lesson. But even though it's scholastic in nature it's not at all hard to digest. And really there isn't anything inherently academic, it's more about the delivery and the way in which the piece is performed that up its culture quotient.

Jan Maxwell's performance is really, really great. She is a seasoned actor who was nominated for a Tony last year for Coram Boy. Maxwell's Galactia is sincere and not whiny; it's hard to be a female and an artist in a society in which neither are respected and the audience understands her plight. She is perfectly cast in this role and it's fun to watch so adept an actor in such an intimate space. Maxwell is joined on stage by a competent cast and the production itself is cleanly defined and directed. The production is well-executed but the subject matter might not be universally appealing.

(Scenes from An Execution - Evening B - plays at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Aves. Future show times are: Thurs. July 17th at 7:30pm, Sat. July 19th at 7:30pm, Sun. July 20th at 2pm, Tues. July 22nd at 7:30pm, Wed. July 23rd at 7:30pm and Sat. July 26th at 2pm. Run time is 2 hrs. 10 min. Tickets are $24 and $10 for students; buy them at www.ticketcentral.com or call 212.279.4200. Visit www.potomactheatreproject.org for more info.)

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