Encore Michigan

Review: World premiere of “Splattered,” at Theatre NOVA.

Review April 24, 2023 Encore Staff

By Fran Potasnik

ANN ARBOR, MI–The world premiere production of the play Splattered took place on April 21, 2023, at Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor.  It runs through May 14.  Written by Hal Davis and Carla Milarch, this one hour play takes place on Monica Spencer’s and Forrest Hejkal’s perfectly-designed set consisting of a wall and floor “splatter painted” in the style of artist Jackson Pollock, and a simple upholstered bench in the center of the stage.  Nothing more or less was needed.

The story takes place at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where a wedding reception is taking place.  All the action occurs in Gallery 406, although the reception is occurring in another room.  The wedding ceremony has been performed by third year Catholic seminary student Justin, played by Artun Kircali, who very effectively portrays Justin’s anguished state of mind  throughout the production.  He has officiated at the Catholic wedding ceremony of his cousin Astrid, played by Marie Muhammad, and they have been close throughout their lives.  A guest at the wedding is Sylvie (Allison Megroet) who happens to be Justin’s ex girlfriend.  Her presence at the wedding is presumably the cause of Justin’s anguished state of mind from his very first appearance on stage.

On the wall of the gallery hangs Jackson Pollock’s splatter painting entitled “One : Number 31, 1950.”  Justin swigs from a large bottle of champagne as he gazes at the painting and speaks to himself.  Soon the ghost of Pollock, played very convincingly by Andrew Huff, appears.  He converses with and challenges Justin throughout the play as the two men discuss various subjects, including philosophy and theology. As the education of a seminarian includes studies of these subjects, Justin would be well versed in these areas.

References to aspects of Catholicism occur significantly throughout the play, such as the moment when Justin and Sylvie first recognize one another.  It was the moment when Justin placed the Communion wafer onto Sylvie’s tongue. The gallery itself can be seen as a confessional of sorts.  In this space, at various moments, each of the characters admit to various transgressions.

Pollock suffered from alcoholism, and this problem is also an issue for Justin. A great deal of conversation centers on women influencing the lives of the two men.  Pollock expresses his gratitude to Peggy Guggenheim, a great supporter of his.  In 1943 she commissioned one of his greatest works, a mural displayed in her art museum and gallery in New York City.  In 1945 he married the successful painter Lee Krasner , who is said to have tutored him and greatly influenced his career, temporarily setting aside her own work.  One of her paintings also hangs in the gallery. The marriage broke down in 1956, perhaps due to Pollock’s infidelity.  He took Ruth Kligman, another abstract painter, as his lover.  Infidelity is also part of Justin’s painful past, leading to his break up with Sylvie, which almost destroyed his peace of mind.

In 1938 Pollock suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for 4 months.  He also suffered from schizophrenia. Here we must note the work of Carla Milarch, who also designed the sound, which almost continuously was present in the background, sometimes subtly, sometimes prominently. One sound effect that is particularly chilling was low, indistinct chattering of many voices.  One of the more terrifying symptoms reported by schizophrenia sufferers is the presence of voices heard in the mind.  They may be distinct or indistinct, but are impossible to blot out.  Milarch certainly captured this auditory hallucination very well.

Throughout the play the female characters, played by the two accomplished actresses, come and go, but of course they are unable to perceive the ghostly presence.  Or are they?

In 1956 Pollock crashed his Oldsmobile, killing himself as well as one of his passengers, Edith Metzger.  Edith was a good friend of Ruth, who was also a passenger in the car but survived. The playwrights suggest that it was a suicidal act rather than a mere car crash.  Here is another common thread between the two men, as Justin learns of an attempted suicide that occurred in the past.

I was left wondering about the timing of Justin’s decision to enter the seminary.  His break up with Sylvie occurred, we are told, 3 years ago. Justin is now in his third year of formation in the seminary. Could the break up have been so devastating as to influence him to immediately enter the seminary?

This decision to enter the priesthood is one of the most profound one would make in a lifetime, and is usually one that is reflected upon by the individual for years prior to entering the seminary.

One small technical fault was noted at the very beginning of the action. Justin’s ramblings were almost inaudible to the audience members.  A slight imbalance between the actor’s voice and the sound effects? This condition was soon corrected.  Perhaps it was intentional?

Overall, a very engaging and creative script, brought to life brilliantly by the performers, set, sound, lighting and direction.

Fran Potasnik is a guest reviewer for EncoreMichigan

Week of 7/15/2024

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