A Poetical Stroll Through the National Gallery in London
Streaming at Irish Repertory March 6, 2021
“I am waiting for his nibs,” explains Madame de Pompadour in a painting by Francois-Hubert Drouis, “…any minute now…He plays at being the king, then, quick as you can, snap a mandolin gut, it’s over.” Louis XV’s mistress balefully admits that despite the commedia aspect of the act, she loves it and implicitly her lover.
“If your first impression of me is that I’m haughty, I forgive you. It’s the lyrical portrait painter who’s autocratic,” says Lord Ribblesdale in John Singer Sargent’s work. The honorable much prefers to sit naked in a wood, mourning his wife and children.
Two crackerjack, classically trained actors, while appearing to stand at podiums, morph seamlessly before our eyes in age, class, and nationality as they embody characters evoked by images in classic art work. Each painting is projected on a screen accompanied by a few lines of history so we know where we are, followed by a coming to life of those depicted. This is NOT an academic art lecture. It’s a lighthearted, entertaining evening of theatrical originality.
“If we could choose our own deaths, I would like to be smothered by a woman with whom I’ve slept a million times,” sighs the Portrait of a Young Man by Andrea del Sarto.
Irish poet Paul Durcan (22 published books) has created marvelous little scenarios filled with imagination, humor, pathos and plausibility. Sometimes they give voice to the subject of a portrait, other times, Durcan chooses figures within the work, attributing each with life and relationship just as easily occurring in modern times (replete with references and colloquialisms) as the era when brush originally touched canvas.
“Our favorite motto is Muhammad Ali’s, `Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.’ We are closest to mum but dad is mad about us…” This from sisters Mary or Margaret in The Painter’s Daughters Chasing a Butterfly, by their father Thomas Gainsborough. “The only times he ever comes to London is to see a Lucien Freud exhibit.”
You’d never guess what’s going on in Degas’ The Young Spartans Exercising and Niccolo di Buonaccorso’s The Marriage of a Virgin.
Dermot Crowley and Dearbhla Molloy are unimpeachable. Each fully inhabits his roles. Accents appear and disappear as easily as turning a page. (Next to nothing is actually read.)
Monologues are paced to feel like intimate reflections directed at the audience. When the two interact (as protagonists inside the same work), feelings are immediately established. Both thespians speak with mellifluous precision adding audible pleasure and increased lyricism. They sparkle with warm life.
Director Richard Twyman has exercised finesse and sensitivity helping manifest a stage filled with the most interesting people.
Give Me Your Hand
Irish Repertory Theatre
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg