Edward Albee (1928 - 2016) states that he was a long time pal of the American sculptor, Louise Nevelson. The heady connections that we imagine in the world of the arts comes to life, more or less with his play, OCCUPANT. Friends had told him that his imagined interview with Nevelson thirty years after her death, now on stage at The Garry Marshall, pretty much captured "her essence, her ambivalence, her sense of self." The conceit that "Man" (James Leibman), who seems to have done his research very well on the long dead Nevelson (Martha Hackett), makes no bones about arguing the fine details of her life, conducting the interview and correcting her recollections from time to time.
|James Liebman and Martha Hackett|
Originally planned to star Anne Bancroft in 2002, that production was scrubbed due to Ms Bancroft's ill health.
Nevelson was a 'self made' woman who says in the play that when she was a tiny baby that the great Shalom Aleichem lifted her to his eye level and declared,
"... she is destined for greatness!" From humble roots and hard working parents, Louise (nee Leah Berliawsky) grew up feeling that the prophesy would some how come true.
Director Heather Chesley's choices for Liebman and Hackett have either been co-opted by the actors or she may have had a reason to allow the huge gaps of time and space to elapse between the characters as the play progressed. Albee's style of having the characters address the audience from time to time is charming. The only impression left is that the energies of both actors seemed to be somehow compromised each by the other. Liebman as a somewhat cynical interviewer works slowly and deliberately. Ms Hackett misses opportunities to move things along with a change of pace.
Ms Hackett presents Nevelson as a strong and capable woman in the words but less so in the performance. Who's in charge of the interview and where does its ultimate power lie? In the text, it feels as though Nevelson herself is coming back from the dead to expansively share her story. The premise must be of interest to anyone who loves her work, as she relates that she spent a better part of her life struggling for recognition. For the play it seems that in her inimitable style she would be presenting her life with vigor and panache. The energy is lacking.
Nevelson discusses how the "eyes" are the most important part of her presentation, (though Paula Higgins' signature headscarf and flowing garments are perfect) saying that she never went anywhere without two pairs of 'sable eyelashes.' "Did you ever try three," the Man asks. She did, she said, but couldn't keep her eyes open and everyone thought she was going around asleep!
The strong statements of Nevelson's sculptures, an example of which looms over the second act, are impossible not to recognize. She fell in love with wood and it's the wood that she'll always be remembered for. The energy of the discussion between the living and the dead must come to life with passion and enthusiasm on behalf of the woman and for her art. There is a palpable energy when confronted by one of Nevelson's huge black sculptures in any art museum in the world. For the play to work, that energy must be present. It seems to be in the text and, hopefully, may be on the stage as the production moves along. This somewhat static 'two hander' is physically lethargic which no noe would ever have thought about the artist herself. "Don't smoke!"
OCCUPANT by Edward Albee
West Coast Premiere
The Garry Marshall Theatre4252 W Riverside Drive
Burbank, CA 91505
Through March 4, 2018
Tickets and Information
818 955 8101