One-person stage performances based on the lives of famous people tend to fall into two categories: the hopeless—fawning, reverential hero worship; or the excruciating—tedious, linear depiction focused on minutiae, ignoring universal relevance.
Lucinda McDermott's one-woman show O'Keeffe!, featuring Carolyn Wickwire, escapes both pitfalls. Directed with focused restraint by Ouida White, with costumes by Aaron Patrick Turner and co-produced and designed by Dennis West for Flower and Bone Productions, O'Keeffe is surprisingly fresh and dynamic.
The play revels the often conflicted inner life and feelings of the world famous artist Georgia O'Keeffe and leaves her well-known body of work well enough alone. Not one Kinko's-enlarged, blurred print nor one clumsily painted attempt at reproduction sullies the performance.
It's an austere production, minimalist in setting, lights and props, allowing the ideas, dreams and perspectives of O'Keeffe, the woman, to flow through Wickwire's nimble expressions as a masterful, versatile performance artist. Drawing from her voluminous correspondence, interviews and biographies, McDermott introduces O'Keeffe as a ghost, returned to speak directly to an audience.
The performance offers a pleasing, reflective perspective on the internal life of this unique, ambitious, honest, creative woman. Wickwire transforms herself as she externalizes O'Keeffe's personal world, through direct address or interactive scene recreation. Her Georgia charms and challenges, instructs and admonishes, seduces and engages the audience, always brutally honest and totally committed to her art and the world-class photographer Alfred Stieglitz, her life partner, whom she affectionately calls "Old Crow."
"Is it me, or is it Stieglitz?" she ponders repeatedly, regarding her imagined work and the fame it engendered. She fades away at the end into her "big, wide, quiet space," murmuring gently, "keep a little something for yourself, as well" to the entranced audience.
Surely Georgia O'Keeffe would approve.
◊ Look for O'Keeffe performed regionally in the coming months, including in Marfa, Texas, in July.
◊ Read Bonifield's interview with Wickwire and White here.
◊ You can see also read this interview on the author's blog, CriticalRant.com, which is a TheaterJones media partner.