Exhibitionism

SMALL DEATHS: UNNOTICED BEAUTY
Women & Their Work Gallery,
through September 27

Recently we've been confronted with quite a few "big deaths," deaths of highly visible public figures - notably a nun, a princess, and a fashion designer. They've been powerful events, impossible to miss and sometimes overwhelming. Perhaps that's what makes this exhibition of works by photographer Kate Breakey so timely; it reminds us that there is power also in small deaths, those common, unnoticed ones.

Breakey has managed to transform the demise of various diminutive creatures into a beautiful, majestic melange of images that celebrate the inherent beauty of the creatures' existence in, and departure from, this world. Birds and flowers comprise the majority of Breakey's studies, offering their post-mortem remains as fodder for her lens and, eventually, brush. It's not at once apparent if these creatures are dead or alive, painted or photographed because, in essence, they are all of the above.

Breakey photographs the subjects just as she discovers them: bent stem, lowered head, limp petals, frozen eyes. She then enlarges the images and hand-paints them with oils and pencils, enhancing certain features, obscuring others. The result is an eerily hypnotic set of images that blur the line between real and imaginary, and provide a strange sense of melancholy-laced contentment with what death holds for us all.

How most of these bodies encountered their fate is unknown -- perhaps predators, weather, age. Yet we know how the Chipping Sparrow met its demise. It was found entombed in the folds of some heavy curtains, clinging to the fabric as if it were secure in a tree. Its upstretched legs and protruding claws are suspended in time, its barely open eye giving no hint to the struggle that certainly took place before it died. The quiet stillness of the image alleviates the pressure of the morbidity and sorrow that one might expect from such a portrait.

This stillness carries on throughout the show. Each image contains sweetly simple detail -- the ridges in a bunting's beak, a slightly upturned edge of a single petal on a yellow tea rose, the alligator-like scales covering the belly of a Chihuahuan spotted whiptail -- that reminds us of the beauty surrounding us: the beauty that we notice so rarely, and often not until it's too late.

-- Cari Marshall




MAN OF LA MANCHA: MIRROR OF PERSISTENCE
State Theatre,
through October 12
Running time: 2 hrs, 15 min

In a darkened room in a building not visited by most in the city, a ragtag collection of human beings invest themselves in the telling of a story. They haven't much with which to set the stage -- some colorful outfits, a little furniture, a smattering of props -- yet they persist, imagining themselves as figures in other times, other places, unspooling a drama of some other lives.

The scene is the State Theatre, where Live Oak Theatre's season-opening production of Man of La Mancha is in performance, and rarely does a show so mirror the story it is presenting. In the play, the room is a cell holding citizens under investigation by the Spanish Inquisition, and its inhabitants are persuaded by a new prisoner -- one Miguel de Cervantes -- to help him play out the story of his literary creation, Don Quixote. While the darkened room in which Live Oak is reviving this familiar tale is not nearly as dank and oppressive as the one in the story -- and it certainly doesn't reek with the threat of brutal torture and execution -- it is a place apart from the main of society, and one with limited resources for providing dramatic spectacle. Still, within its walls, a band of diverse souls are willing to lose themselves in fantasy in order to discover something about the larger world.

In the way they valiantly take to telling Don Quixote's tale, these La Mancha cast members reflect their counterparts within the play. They give enthusiastic expression to their characters, striving to make the most of each line, each motion, even if it's only to scuttle toward a corner of the stage or react silently to another player's actions. Some are rather expressive to a fault -- their faces and bodies conveying emotion with such exaggerated fervor that they distract from the main action -- but they at least make it clear that they are, like the figures they portray, intimately engaged in the play.

The actors at the heart of this exercise in make-believe are among the most vivid in their surrender to their parts. In the dual role of Cervantes/Don Quixote, Edmound Fitzpatrick comports himself with a dignity befitting both a principled author or a knight, and his voice, satisfyingly full, sails through the air with a kind of grace. His Aldonza/Dulcinea, as realized by Amy Stinson, is a woman whose petite form conceals a titan's temper; she seems to subsist only on her own bitter rage. Yet when she at last accepts Don Quixote's fanciful identity for her, Stinson's voice caresses the name Dulcinea with a profound tenderness. And Scott Schroeder makes no pretense at subtlety in portraying Sancho Panza; he's like the missing Stooge, a full moon face with a pair of full moon eyes, behind which hangs empty space. They do much to sustain the dramatic thrust of this production when it occasionally trips over its own eagerness or when, as in the play, the limitations of the company's resources become too readily apparent.

Director Don Toner has not staged the most polished production of Man of La Mancha that the city is likely to see, but he's produced one that is in sync with the soul of the play, a soul that smiles on noble aspirations, however impossible they may appear.

-- Robert Faires

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