Pinter’s “Ashes to Ashes” at Intuit Art Center Review – Play Linked to the Soul of the Art in its Surrounds

Husband? Therapist? Tormentor? We never quite know who the man in the room is. Photo courtesy of Intuit


While this flawless Citizens’ Relief performance of Pinter’s “Ashes to Ashes” is masterful in execution it serves Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art best by being a magnet to pull in visitors to see their one-of-a-kind collections. 


From the Intuit permanent collection. Photo: Peter Kachergis


While the special exhibit of the later-in-life paintings of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide (Betty Zakoian) is the putative link to Intuit Center’s staging of this Pinter play, the preliminary walk through the permanent exhibit to get to the performance space merits a long linger. 


The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art has a one-of-a-kind collection, often missed by busy commuters down Milwaukee Avenue. Photo: Peter Kachergis


By definition, the works you see there are by untrained artists. 


Many of Zakoian's images are upbeat and celebratory, contrasting with the nightmare images from the Amernian Genocide. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Perhaps because formal art education is lacking, the common denominator in this collection is the irrepressible creative spirit that brought them to birth. 



Zakoian's image of the Turks attacking her when she was a child during the Armenian Holocaust are particularly moving. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Like Zakaoian, many of these self-taught artists took to the easel, sculpture or X because of issues burning within their soul seeking an outlet. 


From the Intuit's permanent collection. Photo: Peter Kachergis


To call it PTSD somehow seems to miss the point that these are the works of souls striving to find clarity from their turmoil. 


“Betty Zakoian Untitled (Woman in Red and Yellow), n.d. Tempera on cardboard Gift of the Zakoian Family Collection of Intuit, 2007.5.45”. Photo courtesy of Intuit


Clinical labels would seem to get in the way of recognizing them for the oozing creative genius at their core.  Bravo to Intuit Center to amass such an amazing collection to tell the tale of Outsider Art in just one room.


The workroom of a fascinating outsider artist, Henry Darger, is recreated at the museum. Photo: Peter Kachergis


And then there is the actual play with a mesmerizing performance by actors Mike Driscoll and Simone Jubyna bringing Pinter’s famed pauses and sighs to life so well that one imagines each of these actors seizing the silences as times to rearrange their internal organs. 


One imagines that these superb actors are even able to re-arrange their internal organs for dramatic effect during this performance. Photo courtesy of Intuit


Every one of their muscles seems to be engaged in telling the story, that is, as much as it is told.  


Citizen's Relief calls itself "advocates of the unkown or overlooked theatrical text". Photo courtesy of Citizens' Relief



This is one of those plays that leaves much room for interpretation of what happened on the stage.  Superficially, a man and woman, who seem to be long married, are involved in a rapt conversation where she tells of past traumas at the hand of a mysterious sexual partner.  This man is described as grabbing children away from their mothers’ arms in train stations, evoking images of the Holocaust during World War II.  Hence the tie-in with Zakaoian’s art.  Given the outsider art surrounds it seems even more poignant that Pinter was said to deny that this play was about the Holocaust per se, explaining it was more about the general human condition.


Violence simmers in "Ashes to Ashes" as it does too in many of the Intuit collections. Photo courtesy of Intuit


One can’t overstate the sheer excellence of this astoundingly nuanced performance by the Citizens’ Relief cast.  That you are sitting in a close air space with them in a small performance area that adds to its immediacy.   This mount of “Ashes to Ashes” also seems to be a welcome reminder of the time decades ago when the performances on Chicago stages were often of existentialist and Pinter-like themes where entertainment per se is secondary to provoking thought. 


From the Intuit's permanent collection. Photo: Peter Kachergis


Bottom line:  A top pick recommendation for theater, for art.


“Ashes to Ashes” runs through September 20.  The Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m-6 p.m. Thursdays until 7:30 p.m. Sundays noon 5 p.m. Closed Mondays.


Visit the Intuit Center website for more info or call (312) 243-9088.


Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

756 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL

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