Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Heather Chesley
Edward Albee is an iconic American writer ("Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf").
He is absolutely one of my favorite playwrights and I am thrilled whenever one of his plays is being produced in L.A.
“Occupant” is one of his lesser-known plays, has only been produced a handful of times, and is one of the last plays written by this Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning playwright. This is its west coast premiere in fact, and if you want to produce an icon’s work then do it at an icon’s theatre.
The play is ostensively an interview. As the play opens the interviewer, an unnamed man, is waiting nervously for his subject to arrive. When she does, the audience is introduced to the much celebrated 20th-century sculptor Louise Nevelson in all her flamboyant, difficult and gifted glory…oh and she is dead…a ghost, or something like it. The interviewer is aware of this small detail and the manner by which this extraordinary conversation is taking place is never explained. But that is hardly the point of the play.
Edward Albee was a great friend of Louise Nevelson and the play was written after her death, so it is a fair assumption to say that the interviewer is in some way Albee himself. Ms Nevelson was a fascinating woman and famously vague and contradictory about her life story, her beginnings and even her name at some points of her life.
This play takes us on a roundabout journey through her life. From her childhood in Russia to her immigration to America and her experiences as a Russian jew living in Maine in the early part of the 20th century. But mostly the play explores how this Russian Jewish woman reinvented herself as one of the world's greatest sculptors. With little training and really no support from her family, she quite literally ran away to the city to become an artist. All this late in life too, after an unhappy marriage and what was to her the burden of motherhood, or as she puts it, “I was a terrible mother.”
So…an unusual subject matter for a play…but then Edward Albee was never a traditional or predictable writer and Louise Nevelson, with her monumental, monochromatic wall pieces and sculptures was hardly a conformist either, in her life or her art. So a perfect match!
Perhaps the playwright saw in his subject an opportunity to explore his own “why” as much as anything else. Either way what is created is a remarkable piece of work. Full of revelations and confessions as well as the obvious maneuverings of a reluctant subject keen to deflect truths with her dreams of what was real. How often we imagine how we might ask questions of those we love after they have moved on from this world? I know I have, many, many times. This play is Albee creating a world in which he can conjure up his dearest friend to ask her more about herself than she would ever share while she was alive. Perhaps he regretted never having more candor from her, perhaps he thought he would have much more time for talking…but then again, don’t we all?
It’s a lovely piece and the simple and stunningly effective and evocative staging and direction support these fine actors in their uncovering of characters so full of the weight of their words while still maintaining the passion, the humor and the irony of regret.
Martha Hackett as Louise Nevelson and James Liebman as the interviewer are both sublime. Subtle, nuanced and forgiving of each other as they spar and skewer their way through what seems like it should be just a conversation, but is oh so much more disarming than that.
I highly recommend “Occupant” at The Garry Marshall Theatre…another beautiful, thoughtful production…bravo!
Running from February 2 - March 4, Thursdays, Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; Sundays at 3PM at The Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 W Riverside Dr., Burbank, 91505
Starring Martha Hackett and James Liebman
The Creative Team: Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford, Costume Design by Paula Higgins, Sound Design by Robert A. Ramirez, Lighting Design by Jean-Yves Tessier, Makeup design by John Stapleton senior artists for MAC Cosmetics, Casting by Amy Lieberman, and Stage Management by Dale Alan Cooke.