Art House Productions unveiled their new space in Cast Iron Lofts with a production of Leisure, Lust written by Sara Farrington and directed by Marina McClure. The play marked a move from Art House’s longtime home in Journal Square to their new residence on Coles Street, beneath the towering Kobra mural of David Bowie. The new fully-accessible arts center will host theater productions, visual arts exhibitions and other events.
The public’s first look at the versatile new space found it set up in a theatre-in-the-round style with rows of seating on all four sides of the sparsely decorated set, which remained at eye-level. Leisure, Lust began with the characters entering the space through the same pathways that many audience members took to find their seats, creating an intimate and engaging setting.
Leisure, Lust takes place in a world inspired by the lives of Edith Wharton and Jacob Riis, two historical figures who represent, respectively, gender roles and class roles. Edith Wharton defied gender norms when she achieved literary success in a society that was oppressive to her gender; Jacob Riis documented New York City slums to expose their poor living conditions and promote social reform with his book “How the Other Half Lives.” More than a century later, the lives of the “other half” still carry the same degree of intrigue.
Leisure, Lust explores the “halves” into which society often divides itself, while individual characters struggle with conflicting dualities within. Even the structure of the play itself is divided into clear and even halves – the first act features two females, the second act two males; half of the characters are rich, half poor; half live lives of leisure, half of labor; half wear shoes while half are barefoot – vulnerable, cautious, and unsure. The story is even told from two sides of existence itself – one from the perspective of a character’s life and one from after his death.
The characters seem, at first glance, to represent simple archetypes; yet as the plot unfolds, they waver within the defined roles of society in a delicately woven interplay of class, gender, sexuality, and mental state that challenges our expectations and understanding. As clearly as the demarcations are drawn, identity bleeds beyond the boundaries.
The cast (Stephanie Regina, Gabriella Rhodeen, Kyle Stockburger and Christopher Tocco) demonstrated great physicality, impressively shifting between movement qualities – soft to sharp, loose to bound, masculine to feminine – to portray different characters at different moments. Their leaps across time and identity highlighted the differences and often the ironies in each character’s classification, and the cost of reconciling their own energies with societal expectations.
Sara Farrington makes character choices that help tell a story of gender, sex, love, mental illness, labor and immigration. The choice of setting at the turn of the last century draws a correlation to issues at the forefront today, and begs questions as to whether we have become more or less empathetic of the other half, and more or less entrenched in our own roles.
One of the most memorable lines of the play is about an opal necklace that gnaws away at itself. The image is of a gem that is valuable for its beautiful, sparkling hues, but one that is soft and slowly breaks down internally, and is susceptible to cracks with changes in external conditions. It is a beautiful metaphor for how society’s values can come at the expense of inner peace.
In the words of Sara Farrington: “We’re still fame and money obsessed. We’re still wary of outsiders and generally unconcerned with the poor and their stories, and all of us seem to always be striving to fit in and to achieve something ostensibly better than what it is we have despite the toll it may take on our relationships and spiritual lives.”
Next up at Art House Productions is Grace, or The Art of Climbing Written by Lauren Feldman and Directed by Adin Walker, from March 15 – April 1. For more events and information, visit www.arthouseproductions.org
For more information about Marina McClure, Director, visit www.marinamcclure.com
For more information about Playwright Sara Farrington, visit www.ladyfarrington.com