Art Comes to Life in U.Va. Drama Department’s Production of ‘Museum’

February 18, 2014

On the final day of an art exhibition, more than 30 museum patrons are milling about surveying the work of the three artists represented – each museumgoer offering a distinct opinion.

Such is the entertaining nature of art, according to Tina Howe’s play, “Museum,” which will be presented by the U.Va. Department of Drama on Feb. 20-22, Feb. 26-28 and March 1, at 8 p.m. each night in the Ruth Caplin Theatre.

Directed by Doug Grissom, associate professor of playwriting in the drama department, the play offers an absurdist-yet-enlightening perspective on the critical responses to contemporary art.

In the production itself, the works of the three artists on display include conceptual white-on-white artwork, sculptures made out of organic material, and a clothesline running across part of the stage. The reactions of the patrons as they view the exhibit range from transfixed and exalted to bored and dismissive to mildly amused and guffawing with laughter.

Presiding over this diverse group of spectators is a security guard who tries in vain to keep things under control.

“The play introduces characters and plot lines constantly,” Grissom said. “Although the guard is a thread throughout the show, he is not a protagonist – although all the other characters are. Having more than 30 protagonists in a play is unusual, but it helps to give a sense of the fun and vibrance of a major art exhibit.”

Grissom is a noted playwright himself. His plays “Deep Down” and “Elvis People” have been mounted in major off-Broadway productions and produced at regional theaters across the country.

He said he was attracted to Howe’s work because of the fluid way that she juggles characters and plot lines.

When the play was originally staged at the New York Shakespeare Festival, there was a cast of 17, with each actor having multiple roles, but the playwright had always hoped that ultimately any group performing “Museum” would employ the large size of the cast as a challenge and not as a restriction. 

Grissom embraced the challenge and opted to cast most roles individually rather than having actors play multiple roles.

“I wanted to use as many actors as possible to give the opportunity to act to new actors, as well as seasoned actors,” Grissom said. “It’s a great way for new actors to experience a mainstage production.

“I told each of the actors that they were Hamlet – for when each is onstage, they are indeed the center of the audience’s attention.”

Ticket prices for “Museum” are $14 ($12 for seniors and U.Va. faculty, staff and U.Va. Alumni Association members, and $8 for students, and are available online here, by calling 434-924-3376 or in person weekdays from noon until 5 p.m. at the U.Va. Arts Box Office, located in the lobby of the U.Va. drama building. 

“Museum” will be presented without an intermission.

Free parking is available at the Culbreth Road Parking Garage, located alongside the drama building.

For information on the 2013-14 U.Va. Department of Drama season, click here.

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