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Fells Point Corner Theatre The Sculptress

By • Jul 18th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
The Sculptress
Fells Point Corner Theatre (Baltimore Playwrights Festival)
Fells Point Corner Theatre, Baltimore, MD
Through July 31st
2:15 with intermission
$12
Reviewed July 14th, 2011

The Sculptress takes what is known of the real biographies of two fascinating artists, sculptress Camille Claudel and surrealist painter Remedios Varo, and imagines what might have happened if these two women’s stories had intersected during the time that Varo was in Paris. Both women do have fascinating lives and while the basic premise of the tale is in itself interesting, the actual script falls short. The Baltimore Playwrights Festival is a great opportunity for playwrights to showcase their original work, but the combination of the issues with the script and the issues with the Fells Point Corner Theatre production led to an extremely problematic performance.

The script, written by Marilyn Millstone, is written in very short scenes that cover many locations. This would be much better suited to film or a very high-budget production. Director Juliana Avery and Set Designer Darla Luke attempt to address this problem by keeping the basic set largely abstract. There is an interesting black and white floor design that is very surreal. There are three black-and-white paintings that are uncovered to represent various settings in a slightly abstract way. The paintings are not bad, but they lack any real character and don’t really enhance the scenes. In other scenes, they are covered by white sheets that adorn the walls, but the paintings are often not fully covered and become distracting. The white sheets as walls are not very interesting. If the play had less set changes, it would enable the set design to add more detail, depth, and meaning to the set. Also distracting is the “sort of” black-and-white color scheme in the set and costumes. Most everything is in black and white, but then there will be a brown desk and chairs or a red tie or green bag. It comes across like an unrealized color scheme. There does seem to be any deep significance to the things that are in color. It is unsettling that there is an almost but not quite color scheme. If this was the intention, the connection to the thematic reasoning was unclear. Beyond the color scheme, there were a few other issues in costuming, such as Lizarraga’s pajamas, plaid pants and a t-shirt, that were modern and jarringly anachronistic.

Another problem with the script is that much of the dialogue sounds more like writing than like speaking. The characters rarely had unique voices; all seemed to possess the same voice. It sounded very scripted and unnatural, which led to a general overdramatic and unrealistic feel for what attempted to be a deeper story about the humanity of the characters. This was often not helped by the performances. Stefan Aleksander (Paul Claudel) was so over the top that it was hard to take him seriously. He would turn dramatically to the audience and deliver the last words of his sentences with overdramatic emphasis and over used the gesture of pointing in another character’s face. Characters would often go from calm to angry to calm very abruptly in a way that did not seem like natural character development. Karin Rosnizeck (Camille Claudel), who was definitely the most talented in the cast and did have a few very bright moments, did not seem to know if her character was sane or insane. The abrupt nature of the script did not help with this. Yagmur Muftuoglu (Remedios Varo) possessed a nice confidence on stage but had trouble developing a realistic character. Again, this may have come from the very formal and inconsistent nature of the writing. David Shoemaker had the task of playing several different characters in the piece, and there was no distinction between the characters. This was a combined result of his not being versatile and the lack of versatility in the writing. Ellie Nicoll (Genevieve Renat) also had a hard time giving believability to her character and often her facial expressions were incongruent with her words. Eve Carlson (Young Nun/Secretary) is just largely forgettable and seemed inexperienced on the stage.

Yet another issue is the fact that the action is taking place in France, and we are expected to believe that the characters are speaking French (and maybe Spanish?). The author uses “oui” and “si” to try to indicate the language being used, but then we hear the rest as English. In some certain scenes, one character will use one and the other will use another. Are we to believe they are speaking two different languages to each other? Also, Rosnizeck has an accent, which may be her’s or created for the character, while her brother has none. Shoemaker dons an accent for his French character, but no one else has an accent, and his other two characters use the exact same voice.

Also an issue is the sense of time in the piece. For one, it is confusing to put together the exact timeline of events and how much time passes between scenes. Along with the whirlwind of French names thrown into the back story, it is very hard to keep everything straight without prior knowledge of the real history. There is also a time where a scene indicates that a certain visit was the second between the two women, but a following scene with the brother makes it seem like there were more visits. There is a time when Remedios comes for a visit, a scene of less than ten minutes occurs, and the nun comes in to tell her that she has to leave. Remedios is shocked that it has gotten that late. If she only came ten minutes before the end of visiting hours, why would it seem quick? The scene at the end of the show takes place many years later, but the two characters in that scene have not aged. They also talk about the fact that Renat left briefly (because when she returned, she met her second husband) in 1935, but then says that the letter from Remedios came in 1936. In the previous scene, the letter had arrived just before Renat was to leave for Paris. It is all very confusing. Again, if this is intentional, the point was lost.

There are also so many unanswered questions still at the end. The script leaves one wanting to know more about what happened to Camille both before and after the events depicted and not in a good way. It is also really unclear still how Paul felt about his sister and why he did what he did. For what is set-up as a character piece, it does little to expose the real inside of these characters. It seems to delight more in making comments about art, women, religion, and politics. It feels like Millstone knew what point she wanted to make and forgot to just tell the story, give the characters life, and let the point make itself.

Cast

  • Camille Claudel: Karin Rosnizeck
  • Lizarraga/Debussy/Jacques the Bartender: David Shoemaker
  • Paul Claudel: Stefan Aleksander
  • Genevieve Renat: Ellie Nicoll
  • Young Nun/Secretary: Eve Carlson
  • Remedios Varo: Yagmur Muftuoglu

Production Staff

  • Director: Juliana Avery
  • Playwright: Marilyn Millstone
  • Producer: Kate McKenna
  • Stage Manager: Stephy Miller
  • Set Designer: Darla Luke
  • Lighting Designer: Tom Kowalski
  • Set Construction: Kevin Heckathorn
  • Production Assistant: Eve Carlson
  • Costume Design: Erica Reid
  • Props: Eve Carlson
  • Booth Technician: Stephy Miller
  • Poster Design: Natalia Love and Ken Stanek
  • Photography: Ken Stanek

Disclaimer: Fells Point Corner Theatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

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