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Morisot Reclining

It's always a challenge to create compelling art from biography, but in the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company's world premiere of William C. Kovacsik's Morisot Reclining, now running at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, the playwright has not only molded the lives of four cutting-edge impressionists into a forceful drama, but illuminated a most rare treasure.

Portrait of Mary Cassatt by Edgar Degas
Portrait of Mary Cassatt
by Edgar Degas
The action and narrative is overseen by Edgar Degas (Matthew Mueller) and Mary Cassatt (Lindsey Pierce), themselves an interesting pair, who break fourth-wall conventions with commentary, background, and participation, both as themselves and as other characters essential to the playwright's adapted tale. Kovacsik's choice of Degas and Cassatt is insightful, their relationship providing a curious vantage point and striking contrast to that of Edouard Manet (Stephen Weitz) and Berthe Morisot (Karen Slack).

Stephen Weitz as Edouard Manet and Karen Slack as Berthe Morisot
Stephen Weitz as Edouard Manet
and Karen Slack as Berthe Morisot
In the play, Degas calls Morisot and Manet's relationship "the greatest romance ever recorded on canvas," and after experiencing the palpable chemistry that underscores Karen Slack's and Stephen Weitz's performances and the influence that their interactions have on our perception of the portraits Manet painted of Morisot, we are forced to concur.

Morisot Reclining by Edouard Manet
"Morisot Reclining" by Edouard Manet
Manet was already married when he met the aspiring young artist, Morisot, subsequently providing instruction and encouragement to the budding talent. Morisot, in turn, considered him the greatest portrait painter of the age. As their relationship develops in the course of endless shared hours while Manet painted eleven portraits of Morisot, Weitz and Slack nurture a magnetic tension held in check by the social conventions of the day, with Weitz pouring himself into the canvas and Slack telling all in her face and body language.

Meanwhile, Pierce embraces Cassatt's frustration with Degas' lack of attention to her charms, while Mueller joyfully inhabits Degas' biting wit and consummate rejection of social intercourse in favor of the work.

Portrait of Berthe Morisot, playfully hiding behind a fan, by Edouard Manet
Portrait of Berthe Morisot,
playfully hiding behind a fan,
by Edouard Manet
The unconventional conceit and dynamics of the script—Degas and Cassatt being called back from the dead to narrate and act—quickly yield to director Rebecca Remaly's seamless staging and the impeccable skills of the actors. Brenda King's costumes, particularly the women's dresses, are delightful.

We may all dream of having a love affair that transcends the limitations of space-time, but Berthe Marisot and Edouard Manet actually achieved this. That's not to say that their relationship on this plane was liberating—it most certainly was not. But as Kovacsik delineates in his script and in key portraits painted of Morisot by Manet, and as Slack delivers directly to our hearts—when Morisot gazes at what she has just been told is the final portrait (she is just about to marry Manet's brother); and when she is visited by the spirit of Manet after his death—their love existed in the realm of art, as a Platonic form.

Portrait of Berthe Morisot by Edouard Manet
Portrait of Berthe Morisot
by Edouard Manet
As a coda to the evening, we learned that Manet and Morisot each burned their correspondence before she married his brother, leaving only the artwork as a testament to their love. It is both bittersweet and exhilarating that two revolutionary artists would be so bound by mores, but as Flaubert said, "Be regular and orderly in your life, like a good bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work." Truly, this was a love for the ages.

Boulder Ensemble Theatre's world premiere of William C. Kovacsik's Morisot Reclining runs through May 9th. 888-512-7469 or www.the dairy.org.

Bob Bows

 

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