Abstract Nude is an enigmatic, erotically-charged portrait that seems to reveal more about the people who view it than it reveals about itself. As the painting moves backward in time, it passes from owner to owner, exploding the lives of everyone who encounters it. In one home, the portrait tips the balance in a barely-suppressed power struggle among the members of a well-to-do family. In another, it awakens a great deal of confusion – and passion – between two former fraternity brothers. In the home of the portrait’s subject, it inspires nothing but unrequited love and alienation between two dear friends. And finally, back in the moment of its creation, where the story both ends and begins, the painting incites a terrible violence… the tragedy that haunts it wherever it travels, and that cannot be escaped.
Available from Original Works Publishing.
“The find of the festival” — Peter Marks, Washington Post
“Dextrous theatricality and unexpected pleasure… bowled over by the suppleness of the writing.” — Peter Marks, Washington Post
Originally produced at the 2007 Capital Fringe Festival (DC); directed by Merry Alderman, and featuring Naomi Jacobson, John Lescault, Clay Steakley, Teresa Castracane, Jen Plants, Josh Thelin, and Peter Vance. Produced in abridged form at the 2004 Washington Theatre Festival; winner, judge’s choice, best play; third place, audience favorite. Moving Arts Award, 2008 — Honorable Mention. Produced (live and via live-stream) by Virtual Arts TV at The Secret Theatre in 2013.
I first began thinking about the play that became Abstract Nude after a profoundly important visit I made to the Musée National Picasso Paris. (If you haven’t been, please — book a plane ticket, fly there, spend a day in the museum, return home, and then read the rest of this blog post.) His work is arranged chronologically in the huge museum, which allows one to watch his very ideas about the nature and practice of art evolve throughout the 20th century… and, given that Picasso’s oeuvre IS the 20th century, it’s a bit like watching the modern mind develop, too.
After the visit, I began to wonder how one man could hold so many different beliefs about art in a single lifetime. Did one idea influence the next? Was each one obliterated completely, or did they submerge and re-emerge in new forms? Did they answer each other, reject each other, respect each other? Did they all somehow coexist, his mind full of a thousand competing voices by the end of his life?
A mind full of a thousand competing voices: a better description of the 20th century, it occurred to me, could perhaps not be made. So many of the conflicts humanity has struggled through seem to be conflicts about narrative: which is the true story of the events we’ve lived through, and how shall the next story unfold? Is America a victim of terrorism or an imperialist nation? Does life begin at conception or at parturition?
The same sorts of narrative-based conflicts happen at a personal level, too: Did she just not say no, or did he fail to read her body language? That personal connection is where I really began to feel compelled. I wondered whether different narratives about a piece of abstract art might illustrate something about the nature of meaning in real human lives. That’s where Abstract Nude began… and where the play ends as well.