Telluride Inside… and Out was on the road again, this time in Denver for a weekend away to celebrate the most recent triumphs of two talented friends: Ivar Zeile of the Plus Gallery and Tracy Shaffer, actress, playwright, founder of the Thriving Artist Alliance (and TIO's popular Denver writer.) Art by two. Art squared.
Located at 2501 Larimer, Plus is Denver's edgiest art emporium and Ivar, a rainmaker among the avant garde. The night we arrived Ivar had teamed up with Win Wear to host an evening of experimental shorts dedicated to the poetic exploration of landscape. (We bagged: Too tired after the winter drive. But later heard the fun lasted into the wee hours of the morning.)
The next evening, en route to Tracy's play, "(W)hole," we stopped for dinner at the Zeiles' – pizza and wings ordered in from Marco's, the best in town – and to see the latest exhibition at Plus, "Primitives," featuring the work of California sculptor Mike Whiting.
Whiting, as it turns out, is something of a cultural anthropologist, but in the real-time age of the Internet, history is the shadow you stepped on one block ago. The poignant, seductively simple 3-D figures that have taken up residence at Plus are riffs on forms initially rendered for early video games only 30 or so years ago. "Primitives" coincides with Whiting's latest installation of a major public work on the highly visible Broadway Corridor at the entrance of the River North Art District (RiNo). The artist receives such commissions from across the country. In other words, Whiting is art on the rise. Ames is not.
Ames (Carolyn Valentine) is the protagonist of Tracy's "(W)hole," the one with a hole in her soul, so not whole at all. Hers is the story of a once successful painter in a slump and the shit storm that rains down on her life after she decides to use a seductive model hired by her (unseen) husband and manager Jacques. Turns out the model, Carla (Lucianne Lajoie), is a green-eyed monster in red (Jimmy Choo) shoes, out to destroy what she cannot control – herself especially.
"(W)hole" takes place against a backdrop of white, a blank canvas of an apartment, with accents of green (Ames' signature color), mostly in the form of apples. Get it? Temptation. And red, for Carla. And the devil. Green and red are complementary colors. Complementary colors are known to bring out the best in one another, but also annihilate their opposite when mixed. Which summarizes the play – almost. Tracy is a playwright, not Hans Hoffman. She has used color theory as a very effective jumping off point and the plot driver, not an end in and of itself. "(W)hole" works because, like its author, the play is full of surprises.
I first saw "(W)hole" two years ago as a work in progress at the second annual Telluride Playwrights Festival, started by Jennie Franks to focus on great writing on relevant themes that pertain to our lives now. New York/LA actress Jillian Crane played Carla, not as a cocaine snorting Vegas showgirl loose in the Big Apple, but as a universal temptress, Monroe with a Ph.D. in life. (And all the sadness associated with the iconic actress.) Tragic, not pathetic. Felicia Lansbury (yes, Angela's niece) played Ames as sexy in the tradition of Bacall or Hepburn, not at all frumpy. I would have preferred to see "(W)hole's" two women on the verge served up as they were in Tracy's original recipe. Worthy adversaries. Nonetheless, the play works because Tracy's words and its universal themes – marriage and career slump, desperate measures in desperate times, the high price of making art, breaking the rules – still communicate.
Presented by Paragon Theatre at Kim Robards Dance, 1385 S. Santa Fe Drive. Through November 20. Show time is 7:30 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays. 303-300-2210 or paragontheatre.org. Note: Nudity, adult themes. In other words, not family entertainment.