by Susan Hasho
Forget the fact that Jan Maxwell has announced her retirement from the stage, because that just puts more emphasis on the fact that this witty, sleekly done production of Howard Barker’s Scenes from An Execution must be seen.
From the opening with a bum in the air all the way to its dramatic ending, Scenes from An Execution is comprised of scene after scene of Jan Maxwell as Galactia in conflict with her smitten lover Carpetta (Davis Barlow), the powers that be in Venice represented by Urgentino the Doge of Venice (Alex Draper), her daughters (Lana Meyer, Melissa MacDonald), subjects she uses for her painting and even a snarky minor interchange with the imperious critic Rivera (Pamela J. Gray). She has been commissioned to paint, in Renaissance Venice, the battle of Lepanto. She is, from the first beat of the play, grandiose, independent, mercurial and anti-war. She wants to paint about the pain of war, the details in the destruction of human life, but the Admiral (Bill Army), a leading figure in the military, wants to see the glory of war and his own heroic visage represented . . . heroically. Clearly Galactia is in a war of her own. Because she is a well-known woman with a unique genius for painting, it is particularly interesting to see the histrionic and self-involved ways she flips like a fly after being pinned to a wall by the Catholic Church, the military and Venetian society. What makes all this less cliché than it sounds is that the artist is a woman, and the performance totally Jan Maxwell’s. She allows herself to fully commit to her conception of a powerhouse artist with an unbridled ego willing to stand fast, risks the tension inherent in over-drama, and manages to embody how fun it is to act.
The whole cast is more than capable of meeting her energy and playing with her deliciously. The direction (Richard Romagnoli) has corrected the potential traps of the sometimes too-clever writing by enhancing the play’s dry wit. And what the set lacks in furniture, it compensates for with imagination (scenic design by Hallie Zielslman).
Thank you Potomac Theatre Project for remounting this play with Jan Maxwell and once again reintroducing us to the provocative mind of playwright Howard Barker.
Scenes From an Execution. Through August 7 at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). For tickets and exact dates and times visit http://PTPNYC.org or call 1-866-811-4111.