Henry Moore Is Melting
Good idea can’t carve fresh life into wooden tale
|Cold Basement Dramatics presents|
|Henry Moore Is Melting|
Review by Clint May
Seems like just yesterday I was doing one of my first reviews for Chicago Theater Beat—a little Cold Basement Dramatics production called Thirst (my review). Now a year later I find myself reviewing another of their premieres. If Thirst was long and repetitive, Jenny Seidelman’s Henry Moore is Melting is so short there’s barely time for any one character (of seven) to become sympathetic. They move with no more impetus than “the plot requires this to happen.” In this case, it’s actually more akin to “because this is how various pieces of the known story occurred.” For you see, Moore is based on a very real theft of a priceless sculpture by Henry Moore, allegedly by Travelers (a.k.a. Pavee), a heavily discriminated group of people in Ireland. Seidelman imagines two young brothers under the thrall of their clan’s thuggish patriarch committing the crime, and the fallout when one attempts to save the masterwork from the scrap heap at the cost of all else. For an intriguing premise on the transformative abilities of art, Moore is a surprisingly dull, episodic work that doesn’t realize the potentially compelling spark at its center.
Perhaps inspired by yet another theft of a Moore (seriously, get a handle on that Art World), Tommy (Mickey O’Sullivan) works as the guardsman for his cousin Mac (Brian Rohde) while brother Finn (Ryan Hallahan) is more the field-work type. As Travelers, their life of constant crime seems to be taken as a given, a justifiable given even (one character cites past upperclass abuses). Tommy is a doodler and closet art lover, so when Finn brings home the boon from his latest assignment, he’s shocked and awed to see it’s a massive 2-ton bronze sculpture by one of the 20th century’s most important artists. Appalled by his cousin’s Philistinian plan to sell the work for scrap to the seedy Serg (Casey Kells), he makes a clandestine deal to buy the work back (to sell on the black market for a profit or to return to the museum is never made 100% clear). As he explains to his bartending girlfriend Carrie (Sarah Shirkey), art is a part of someone. Should it be destroyed, it would be akin to destroying a part of the person. His plan to get the money in three days (thanks for the ticking clock!) takes a fortuitous turn at just the right moment when notorious art thief Jimmy Johnson (Adam Overberg) walks into the pub. Tommy’s simple plot becomes even more convoluted when he enlists Jimmy’s help and a shifty Scotland Yard connection.
How the supposedly smart Tommy thought this would go anywhere but wrong is baffling, and like many of these motivations, remains muddy. Sure Tommy is your sensitive bad-boy type, but it’s a tough leap from “doodler” to “willing to risk his own life and the integrity of his family for a single work of art.” A bunch of ineffable things happen with the Scotland Yard connection (Christopher Donaldson), who, despite not having a concrete lead (maybe?) finds and questions Mac anyway, which leads to suspicions that make Finn’s life exponentially more difficult. Jimmy almost casually becomes the true villain when the plan predictably goes awry, while Tommy becomes an even bigger, riskier criminal in an attempt to stave off the sculpture’s destruction. Fitting the square peg of fiction into the round hole of reality results in more cavities in the characterizations than the negative space in an actual Henry Moore work.
Director Laird (a director I’ve criticized before for poor pacing) takes the opposite approach with a script that contains characters whose only emotions seem to be “devoted” or “apoplectic” and a pacing that doesn’t give anything time to breathe. When that thing is the concept of the transformative power of art amid the thieves, it takes a bit more of a lead-up than “has an art book and makes a speech” to convince. It was more believable when the Joker spared Fracis Bacon. O’Sullivan does his best to be the emotional anchor with greatest spectrum of feeling, but without a believable story, he’s left to flit through the motions with his fellow castmates.
There’s a fascinating nugget of an idea here that might be better served being totally divorced from the reality that inspired it. Trying to conform to scant events that no one knows about anyway is only hampering the freedom needed to make these people a compelling portrait of desperation and dreams for a better life. Less may be more, but Moore is too little.
Henry Moor Is Melting continues through January 20th at Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (map), with performances Tuesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm. Tickets are $17-$22, and are available by phone (773-935-6875) or online at AthenaeumTheatre.org (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at ColdBasement.org. (Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)
Mickey O’Sullivan (Tommy), Ryan Hallahan (Finn), Brian Rohde (Mac), Sarah Shirkey (Carrie), Adam Overberg (Jimmy), Casey Kells (Serg), Christopher Donaldson (Charlie)
behind the scenes
Mikey Laird (Director, sound design), Rachel Boylan (Costume Design), Sam Hubbard (Violence Design), Sophie Blumberg (Lighting Design), Morgan Maul-Smith (Production Management), Kit Ryan (Stage Management), Joe Pindelski (Dramaturgy), Jeff Shields (Prop Design), John Kelly (Set Design)