by Collin McConnell · June 10, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #109 Collin McConnell looks at A Serious Banquet
I walk in and am greeted by a cube (which is more a cube made of a series of cubes). I'm instructed to have a conversation with a guitar, but before I can get there, I'm shuffled off to paint my own wine glass (as it is filled with wine). And before I can quite finish my own piece, I'm stolen away to view Picasso's latest - Demoiselles d'Avignon (but it's not quite the actual Picasso painting - rather, the painting as recreated with living bodies, frozen perfectly in a moment).
The evening goes on and on in this manner, becoming more and more lively as more and more guests arrive (and more and more of the art becomes much more than what it seems). At times I am whisked away, and at times I looked on, around the room, to all the beautiful art - the objects, the dancing, the making, the conversations. I found myself talking with so many wonderful people, or, often at times, talking with much wonderful art. I had dinner with Georges Braque and Marie Laurencin, danced with Ida Rubenstein and Clair Sinclair, listened to Max Jacob's poetry (and watched him storm out of the room on several occasions for several minor insults)... Beauty all around me.
Eventually, the guest of honor arrives - Henri Rousseau. It is his birthday, after all, and this is his birthday party, as hosted by Pablo Picasso. But the evening continues. While it is his celebration, the point is that it is celebration, and there is so much of it, it is hard not to be swept up by it all. So much so, I had a hard time recognizing this as a performance piece as the night wore on. Dinner is served, and the experience continues.
Celebration is a sensorial experience. As is art. This evening is an experience, a way to discover cubist art from other vantage points, through other senses. I was, at one point, asked to put a piece of chocolate in my mouth, and then, with my tongue, to make it dance. I love chocolate, and I love savoring food and drink, but to make it dance made it something so much more. And I was asked to discuss Picasso's latest painting, and to draw myself my dinner plate, and...
And that's it too: there was an invitation here. Often I was asked to help create. My friend got to make miniature paintings while I listened for what I might find within a conversation between a vase and a bottle (of which I didn't realize later would be a gift I was to give). I was handed markers, and so convinced a painting to draw with me. I was invited to an evening of joy.
This "play" isn't a play at all. It is an invitation to experience celebration. Yes, it is about art and history, but these things were not handed to me in a dusty book, or put upon a stage where it could judge me for not knowing enough. I was allowed instead to play and grapple with the work, not as a spectator but as a creator myself - not from the outside peering in, but from within itself.
A Serious Banquet is an evening well crafted through the direction of Erin B. Mee, with so many operating parts (from Picasso Painting Lamps to Cubist Dessert) living so wonderfully together. The ensemble works similarly, seamlessly operating individually with and among the audience while at times flowing together to shift to a singular focus. My few interactions were brief, though rich, each character living fully, allowing me to feel truly a part of the party - they even remembered my name.
...During dinner, I was asked to give my gift to Henri - the gift I didn't know I was making as I listened to the vase and the bottle. My gift to him was "possibility." He welled up with happiness, looked at me and asked:
"Do you have a dream you've given up on?"
A startling question, and it struck deep. I wasn't sure how to answer.
"Not quite" was the best I could do.
"Keep going! Don't ever give up! Keep dreaming!"
He meant it. And while he was passed out drunk in the hallway as I left the party, he was smiling still, and so I believed him. I believe him. And I will keep going...