Since leaving Downtown Oakland's Fox Theater, Theatre 1st company has been looking for a space to call home in Oakland, but since it has yet to find that home, the group has partnered with BootStrap Theater Foundation for its first show of of the 2011-2012 season with the world premiere of Hanging Georgia at San Francisco's The Thick House Theatre. The play is about the life of early 20th century American modernist & abstract painter Georgia O'Keefe. Hanging Georgia is written by Sharmon J. Hilfinger with stage direction by Jake Margolin and music by Joan McMillen.
The show features a strong cast led by Paz Pardo in the title role and Michael Storm as O'Keefe's love interest, Alfred Stieglitz. An outstanding supporting cast includes, Nick Allen, Claire Slattery, Roy Landaverde, Juliet Strong, Bear Capron, and Maryssa Wanlass.
The show opens with musicians, McMillen (composer & pianist) and Sandra Poindexter (violinist), walking across stage from downstage left to downstage right. The cast then introduces us to a conceptual depiction of O'Keefe's work with frames as they perform ballet movements and pose within those frames as artworks for a few minutes at a New York City Art Museum.
Pardo does a few pirouettes herself as O'Keefe during this opening scene at Gallery 291 where she meets photographer and art curator Stieglitz. A debate ensues between O'Keefe & Stieglitz as to whether or not he has the right to display her work. She eventually relents.
Then the play shifts to O'Keefe's life at West Texas State Normal College where she was the Head of the Art Department and met one of the other loves of her life, Ted Reid (played charmingly by Landaverde). The dialogue between Pardo and Landaverde in this scene set in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas was heartwarming.
Next, in May, 1917, the scene goes back to Gallery 291 where we meet another of O'Keefe's loves, photographer Paul Strand (portrayed nicely by Nick Allen). Pardo & Allen have a nice chemistry and have some wonderful exchanges in this scene as well as the other scenes throughout the performance. But Strand's interest for O'Keefe would not last, and O'Keefe would then be wooed by Stieglitz.
From there, most of the production highlights the relationship between O'Keefe and Stieglitz from their courtship in New York City during the fall of 1917, to their marriage in 1924, and moving to New Mexico in 1929. They had an intense relationship throughout their lives.
Interwoven through all this in other scenes are their friendships, relationships, and extra-marital affairs with Leah Harris (Slattery), Dorothy (Strong) - an upper class art afficionado, and Anita Pollitzer/Rebecca Strand (Wanlass). Brilliant performances were turned in by Slattery and Wanlass for their roles.
Although the cast was a nice mixture and performed quite well, the chemistry between Pardo worked far better between her, Landaverde, and Allen than it did for her and Storm. Storm is an extraordinary actor, however, the chemistry between him and Pardo did not come across as well as it did for the other two actors who portrayed her other lovers. In fact, Storm's chemistry with Strong's during their scenes seemed more organic.
Margolin's directions were clever for most of the production, especially in the second half. The conceptualization of O'Keefe's artwork with the actors posing in frames; the pallbearers holding up a casket formed by wooden boxes; and the shotguns with sound effects using actors offstage to simulate the gunfire were magnificent.
But there were several occasions when the music was just too loud for the dialogues performing onstage to be heard or the movements on the stage by other actors were too distracting for the scenes happening during the first half of the show. And the show could have opened with the musicians already playing as part of the pre-show performance.
The technical elements of the show complemented the production quite well with set design by Martin Flynn and properties design by Devon LaBelle. And Selina Young's lighting design had fantastic colors and transitions while Ryan Lee Short's sound design accentuated the show's moods and time periods.
Hanging Georgia concludes its run with performances on Oct. 27 @ 7:30 pm; Oct. 28 & Oct. 29 @ 8 pm; and Oct. 30, 2011 @ 5 pm at The Thick House Theatre, 1695 - 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94107. Tickets are $30 or $15 for those under 30 years old. For tickets & information, call (510) 436-5085 or click on the links below:
TheatreFIRST Information: http://www.theatrefirst.com/
BootStrap Theater Foundation: http://bootstrap-foundation.org/btf16a/