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A Model For Matisse
by Barbara F. Freed and Joe Hanrahan
Based on the Documentary Film Written and Directed by Barbara F. Freed
Directed by Ellie Schwetye
The Midnight Company
September 19. 2019

Rachel Hanks, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Todd Davis
The Midnight Company

Joe Hanrahan’s Midnight Company has been known mostly for its one-man shows starring Hanrahan, although occasionally they have done some works with two or more performers. The company’s latest offering, A Model For Matisse, signifies a collaboration for Hanrahan in more ways than one, since he is not only the co-star but also the co-writer of the piece. It’s a fact-based exploration of an important relationship in the life of a well-known 20th Century artist, as well as other intriguing issues that arise from that friendship. It’s a well-cast production and a well-chosen subject, providing not just entertainment but also education for its audiences.

According to the press materials for the show, Hanrahan sought to create this play after seeing a documentary of the same name that was written and directed by Barbara F. Freed. After contacting Freed to get permission to adapt the film, Hanrahan not only got the rights; he ended up collaborating with Freed on the script, which has now had its world premiere with this production. It tells the story of the later years of famed French artist Henri Matisse (Hanrahan), and his significant friendship with the young nursing student Monique Bourgeois (Rachel Hanks), who modeled for several of his paintings and later joined a Dominican order of nuns and became Soeur Jacques-Marie. The play also covers the design and construction of the Chapel of the Rosary in Vence, France, for Soeur Jacques-Marie’s order. The sister and the artist worked together on the project, with the sister serving as a significant consultant and source of inspiration. The story shows the development of the relationship and the conflict between both characters’ different outlooks on life, which serves as reflection of the overall conflict between the influences of traditional religious views and the increasing influences of modernism in Western culture in the mid-20th Century.

The show is a fascinating portrayal of two contrasting characters and the close bond they form. It also serves to highlight the work of Matisse for those for whom the artist’s work–and especially his later work–isn’t especially familiar. The casting is ideal, with Hanrahan bringing a warmth and thoughtfulness to his role as the ailing, occasionally disillusioned but increasingly determined Matisse, and Hanks bringing likable energy to her role and also providing compelling narration to the story as it unfolds. Their story is fascinating and informative, aided by an excellent technical production including stellar projection design by Michael B. Perkins, as well as excellent costumes by Liz Henning and sound design by director Ellie Schwetye, and evocative lighting by Tony Anselmo. Schwetye’s staging is well-paced and inventive, as well, making for a memorable, informative and relatable production.

Although I had heard of Henri Matisse before seeing this show, I didn’t know this particular story, and I suspect a lot of people seeing this play would be in the same position. This show, with an intelligent and lively script from Freed and Hanrahan, sheds light on a perhaps less-known aspect of the artist’s life, bringing to light an important friendship that had a profound influence on him. These two characters are brought to life with clarity by the show’s ideally cast lead performers, providing a fascinating look at art, artists, European life in the mid-20th Century, and more.

Rachel Hanks, Joe Hanrahan
Photo by Todd Davis
The Midnight Company

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