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    Smolder but not wiser

    The celebrated sculptor Louise Nevelson becomes a tiresome figure as the story of her life, "Embers," drags on, but the show features solid work by the talented cast and crew.


    In "Embers," Nada Rowand offers a bold and complex portrayal of celebrated sculptor Louise Nevelson, far outstripping the material as written. Catherine Gropper's new play, now running at the charming Chelsea Playhouse, attempts to draw connections between Nevelson's temperament, her turbulent personal life, and her work as an artist. The episodic structure of the text is meant to mirror the fragmented nature of the artist's more famous works, but the conceit grows tiresome several drunken tantrums before the curtain call.

    Written by: Catherine Gropper.
    Directed by: Helena Webb.

    Related links: Official site
    Chelsea Playhouse
    125 West 22nd St., between 6th and 7th Ave.
    Previews start: Jan. 23, 2002
    Jan. 30 - March 3, 2002

    Despite the shortcomings of the play, Rowand delivers an impressive performance. Draped in Terry Leong's gorgeously flamboyant costumes, she struts the stage extravagantly, spitting out absurd pronouncements about art and artists with a practiced egotism reminiscent of "Sunset Boulevard's" Norma Desmond. She is clearly aware, as is her character, that celebrity artists often consider their own personas a part of their creative output. The play's focus on Nevelson's affair with an ex-cop named Nick (Michael Graves) is designed in part to allow flashes of vulnerability and Rowand seizes the opportunity to let show the cracks in her character's bravado.

    Not all the actors fare as well. Graves is sweet and understated as Nick, a welcome contrast to the relentless hissy-fits of the other characters. Kenneth Wilson-Harrington grates as Nevelson's son Nick; his role is written in part to mirror the studied grand drama of his mother but he proves less adept at the diva bit than Rowand. Melissa Wolff's Dede has some fine moments in an uneven performance.

    Director Helena Webb stages the play nicely but hasn't given her actors enough support with the daunting task of roles that span decades. Designers Jared Coseglia (set) and Graham Kindred (lights) provide a flexible, efficient playing space.

    There's a lot here worth watching, but the fragments don't quite add up. Gropper boldly allows the audience to draw the connections she considers implicit, but the pieces are too rough, and fit together too clumsily, to add up to any kind of cohesive whole.

    FEBRUARY 16, 2002

    Reader comments on Embers:

  • Embers   from Susan Farricielli, Mar 13, 2005

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