Meditations: Eva Hesse Theatre Review - An Artist's Journey Innerward and Beyond

Heather L. Tyler in "Meditations: Eva Hesse" @ Highways in Santa Monica

Santa Monica, Sept. 25, 2010 - In her new play, Meditations: Eva Hesse, Marcie Begleiter invites the audience into the hallowed space of an artist at work, both in the outer world and in the world of her mind.  We see both a large “construction” that Eva is struggling to finish as well as witness her internal struggles, her meditations, that center around the question that every creative person faces:  how does one find the courage to live and work as an artist every day?  And for the purposes of this play, how does one die? 

The action of Meditations takes place in Eva Hesse’s studio, here dominated by the aforementioned “construction,” a large, flat piece of upright wood in which pieces of rope hang from a series of holes.  Some of the ropes are knotted and some will be taken in hand by Eva and knotted during the course of the play.  The set by Jeremy J. Quinn conveys exactly the right “feel” of an artist’s work space.

Heather L. Tyler, as “The Dying Eva,” in Meditations: Eva Hesse @ Highways in Santa Monica

It’s immediate from the moment Eva steps into her studio that she is ill.  She’s wearing a bandage-like cap and there are shadows under her haunted eyes.  And from that first moment, Heather L. Tyler, as “The Dying Eva,” pulls us into Eva’s struggle to both live and finish the work she has started and to let it go and accept her death.

As this dilemma plays out over the course of the 90-minute production, Eva reverts to being a child (Alexandra Ozeri) and young adult (Bianca Gisselle).  We meet her mother (Shanti Reinhardt) and father (Barry Saltzman) and we learn how her Jewish family’s flight from Nazi Germany, and her mother’s subsequent suicide, has colored her life and art.

Robert Manning Jr. and Heather L. Tyler, in "Meditations: Eva Hesse" @ Highways in Santa Monica.

  But the most critical event of the Eva’s life, it seems, was her meeting and marrying another artist, Tom Doyle, played with an unnerving smoothness by Robert Manning, Jr.  We just know from the first moment we see him, there’s going to be trouble for Eva.

One of Doyle’s first acts of betrayal is to arrange for a residency in, of all places, Germany.  Although it is some 20 years after WWII, Eva has no desire to return to where she was born.  Ironically, it is in a deserted German factory that Eva begins to use the “found” objects and mediums that will transform her work.  It is also in Germany that her marriage to Doyle begins to unravel and the couple separates not long after their return to New York.

Waiting for Eva each time she leaves her meditations on the past and returns to her present life are her faithful assistant Jane (Kimberly Patterson) and a new “art worker” (Tudor Munteanu) who challenges her patience, even as he gives her ideas about what to do next with her final piece of art. 

"Meditations: Eva Hesse" @ Highways in Santa Monica

                                                       We move seamlessly in and out of the past/present action of Meditations thanks to director David Watkins’ skillful orchestration of the action and the actors, who move through the story and across the stage with confidence.   Playing multiple roles with aplomb, even a dreamy Marilyn Monroe, is Anne Yatco.

In the end, Eva surrenders to the tumor that has taken up residence in her brain.  As she stands in front of her last, unfinished piece and decides to let go of her life, pricks of light emanate from the wood behind her and we are left to meditate on how an artist, even as she leaves her body, leaves a part of herself behind in her work.  The resonance of this last moment is due in large part to the adept choices made by lighting designer R. Christopher Stokes.

Meditations had a limited run, Sept. 24 & 25, at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, but Begleiter hopes to raise the funds for a longer run next year. 

Be watching for it. 

Highways, Inc.
at the 18th Street Arts Center
1651 18th Street
Santa Monica, CA 90404

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