The Public Domain,
through November 14
Running Time: 2 hrs

Distilling 60 years of power struggles into a smart, two-hour cutting, Robi Polgar has created a play that goes for the jugular, whisking us through the sexiest parts of Shakespeare --deceit, ambition, betrayal, murder --while remaining grounded in the history of the texts. Over 400 years before the colors you wore were hopelessly tied to modern gang warfare, they were used by the Yorks and the Lancasters to distinguish allegiance in their fight for possession of the English throne: adherents to one family wore a white rose; to the other, a red. For this reason, the conflict was called The Wars of the Roses, and Shakespeare outlined the labyrinthine struggle in Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and 3, and Richard III, wherein the feud ends as Henry VII mounts the throne. Polgar pares these four plays into one that uses eight actors and a small stage to play out their epic battles. The action begins with the politically naïve Henry VI, whose unpopular marriage to scheming Margaret of Anjou begins to unravel his kingdom. The Duke of York, Richard Plantagenet, quickly steps up to seize it but is murdered, leaving his sons -- Edward, George, and Richard -- to continue the York succession. Now we're in Richard III land, where the cruel hunchback mercilessly lies, cheats, and murders his way to a frightfully corrupt power.

Like the plays themselves, the design and costumes are stripped of frivolity. Without the ornate costumes and elaborate swordfights, what we get are bodies and language. But rather than giving us less Shakespeare, this approach gives us more -- more opportunity to layer the text with meaning and pay attention to the words and actions. Because just eight actors play the myriad of characters, armed merely with simple, distinguishing costumes and props, they must depend heavily on their vocal patterns and creating distinctive movement. Some performances, such as Michael Miller's hulking, grunting Richard III, seem too extreme for the circumstances (although it certainly helps him stand out). Other work, such as the graceful transitions of Sharon Sparlin, are particularly suited to the play. Some striking physical work -- such as the throne of human bodies made for Richard Plantagenet (Ehren Conner Christian) -- is not merely tricky, it actually adds meaning. For later, when his hunchback son Richard III takes the same position, he is artificially propped up on strewn corpses, the legacy of murder and deceit that he brought with him to the throne.

Between this production and the staging last season of Bertolt Brecht's The Life of Galileo, in which men and women alternated in playing the persecuted astronomer, it is clear that Polgar and The Public Domain are delving into physical theatre, creating human landscapes, and playing against our assumptions of theatre, so that gender and age don't matter as much in the performance of a role as capturing the spirit of the character. To this extent, I would have liked to see even more physicality, since those moments contained the play's most thrilling moments. Wars is demanding of its audience -- I could not recommend the play to those unfamiliar with Shakespeare's history plays, as they will find the work tough to navigate. But it is a labor of love for Polgar, who has deftly whittled away hours and hours of action to bring us this sweeping and original production which examines this bloody legacy in a wholly different light. In this case, less is more.
-- Sarah Hepola


Julia C. Butridge Gallery,
through October 31

Symbols. They can be found all around us, all the time. The Buddha is a symbol. So is a pyramid and so is a football stadium. Even a rose carries symbolic meaning in its petals. Really, anything can be a symbol, including the letters on this page. So, why do we have them? While that topic is outside the scope of this review, I do think it's safe to say that symbols articulate the inarticulate. They are the language of the unconscious, the transcription of dreams or the pathways to beauty or god or poetry or whatever you want to call it. But they become useful to us only when we recognize what they represent. Which is why we have to hand it to the visual artist who is a purveyor of symbolism. Often, he sees in the everyday what the rest of us cannot. For that he is to be commended.

Having said that, Pio Pulido's exhibition "From the Intellect to the Heart" is a collection of paintings, prints, and sketches of big solitary symbols of unimpressive, everyday fare, along with a few invented blobs and squiggles. The difference, however, is that Pulido's depiction of these normal objects -- a horse, a rooster, a desert scape, a flower -- is decisively abnormal. Or, as the title of the show suggests, Pulido's symbols take us from an intellectual viewpoint (a horse is a good work animal) to a viewpoint of the heart (a horse embodies passion and freedom). The result is a magnificent collection of colorful objects set in surreal landscapes that evoke notions of self-subsistence, love, and conscious living.

Pulido's work in the gallery is separated into three separate mediums as well as four or so different styles. When you walk in to the left, you'll notice some large canvases painted in acrylic with geometric shapes raised-off the surface and slivered open like secret pea pods. The theme extends behind these shapes to the canvas in sectioned-off bright lines and color. On the opposite wall, we start getting into a rustic Spanish flavor that Pulido weaves throughout his work with a vitality and movement reminiscent of Joan Miro combined with a static painterly quality seen in Picasso. Even the settings have the empty melancholic spaces of de Chirico, a quality apparent in Kiss in the Night, in which a conglomerate of purple bloated shapes droops in the foreground of an anonymous skyscraper, set on a flat blue and green horizon under a red fingernail moon.

Along the back wall of the gallery hangs Pulido's print work, displaying the artist's impressive knowledge of his craft. With similar themes and subject matter to the smaller acrylic paintings hanging in the gallery, the prints best represent Pulido's use of singular, basic symbology. Rooster (3), Rooster (2), Head (2), and Cat suggest to the viewer that there is more to these things than what they are. The artist furthers these notions by painting hearts and flowers in the bodies of the animals while using bold lines in red and purple to lend a transparent demeanor to his subjects. The tiny sketches of ink on paper hanging to the right of the prints -- which appear to be studies for the larger canvases -- retain the same simple yet challenging display of squiggly lines and found objects.

For the most part, the show embodies a somewhat rough-hewn quality until you get to the four canvases hanging at the right of the entrance. In a strikingly different style from the rest of the show, Pulido has continued his surreal portrayal of everyday objects by presenting very realistic landscapes in very unreal ways. These works can best be described using the term "magic realism," a description given to the literature of Latin American novelists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes. In Virgin of the Jalapeños, the artist depicts a mountainous desert scene in Mexico with a maguey cactus over which levitates a banner of the virgin breastfeeding a child. Around the banner a halo of jalapeño peppers hangs in the air while a row of garlic cloves and juicy red tomatoes trail off through space. One can't help but think of Salvador Dali.

At the same time, while Pulido's work seems to evoke the artist's many different influences, it retains an originality that is positively and purely Pio. And that might even change how you look at the world. -- Sam Martin

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