Arena Civic Theatre Back in the Roundhouse

Cast of Modigliani: Henry Albin, Sky Caron, John Atkins, Jim Merlin, Marvin Shedd and Korey Martineau. Arena Civic Theatre
Cast of Modigliani: Henry Albin, Sky Caron, John Atkins, Jim Merlin, Marvin Shedd and Korey Martineau.

Arena Civic Theatre brought a complicated play to the Roundhouse at the Franklin County Fairgrounds this weekend. The last time they performed in this wonderful venue was 33 years ago!

Modi, John Atkins, and his lover Beatrice, Sky Caron. Arena Civic Theatre
Modi, John Atkins, and his lover Beatrice, Sky Caron.

It was fun sitting in this historic wooden building with the stage in the middle, despite no air conditioning.

The new production of Dennis McIntyre’s 2002 play about a miserable artist was a bit hard to understand.  References to obscure European art related topics weren’t obvious, it was as if you needed to have read the book to understand the references.

A few stand-outs in the seven-person cast were the art dealer, Guillaume Cheron, played by Marvin Shedd, and the one female in the play, Sky Caron who played Englishwoman Beatrice Hastings.

Shedd did a great job taking on the steely hard-bargaining art dealer who wouldn’t pay the poor and talented artist what he was due, until after he died, when his estate became rich and famous.

Caron’s portrayal of the lover of the wine-loving Modi, continually trying to get him to paint, sculpt, or stop drinking, was spot on.  She brought both empathy and love for the title character and captured the anxiety of being tied up with a 24-hours a day drunk.

Guillaume Cheron, (Marvin Shedd) and Modi, look over the paintings he hopes to sell. Arena Civic Theater
Guillaume Cheron, (Marvin Shedd) and Modi, look over the paintings he hopes to sell.

Amadeo Modigliani was, by all measures, tortured in life.  Before he died at age 35, he consumed as much hash, red wine, ether, and absinthe as he possibly could.  He couldn’t sell his paintings and lurched from crisis to crisis, trying to salve it all with more booze and drugs.

The original production was a three hour play in 2002, and thankfully, Arena Civic Theater’s production was closer to two.

Set in three acts, we got a chance to mingle with the cows being groomed in the fairground stables during the 15-minute intermission.

This show is set in 1916, during World War I in Paris, and the artist’s most despised enemy is Pablo Picasso, who knew Modi and didn’t respect his work.  Modi suffers when the art dealer Cheron tells him what Picasso did with the painting he gifted him…he scraped off the paint and re-used the canvas.  “He called your works pictures, not paintings,” Cheron sniffs, adding more insult to the tortured painter.

Jim Merlin’s character of Maumau, a goofy guy with bugged out eyes who is too drunk to keep his pants up, and decides to join the army, is a bit over the top. He is sort of like Lenny in Of Mice and Men, a big wide-eyed idiot, who takes particular glee in helping Modi destroy his paintings during a drunken spree.

The theme throughout the play is that the pair is going to join Beatrice and move, that night, to the distant island of Martinique–but Modi doesn’t know where it is.  This pipe dream carries through until it’s finally exhausted at the play’s end and the artwork lies torn up on the floor.

The culmination of the play is when the artist finally gets a meeting with the famous art dealer, Cheron, and has to face the harsh criticism of his work, comparing him to his hated rival Picasso.

The sad thing is that two years after Modigliani’s death, he became almost as famous as his rival, but he never lived to celebrate his wealth nor fame like Picasso did.

Modigliani: Arena Civic Theatre at the Franklin County Fair Roundhouse, August 9-10, 7:30 pm.

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