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In “Cardiff,” Leila Philip, Garth Evans & ‘the People’ Probe the Question, ‘Is it Art?’
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert      |   follow us...

   
photo byy Bruce-Michael Gelbert
(standing, left to right) pianist Perry Townsend, John Van Ness Philip, Kate Ruby Klefner, Brandon Ruckdashel, Daniel M. McHenry & JC Sullivan (kneeling, left to right) director Andrew Loren Resto, Evelyn Sullivan & James Edward Becton
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From January 25 to 28, in a five-performance Actors Equity Association-approved showcase, at the Duplex, John Van Ness Philip and Andrew Loren Resto’s 3A Productions (their own “All That Might Happen” and “Two Steps Forward,” Charles Ludlam’s “Camille,” Del Shores’ “Sordid Lives”) introduced Leila Philip and Garth Evans’ new chamber play “Cardiff,” directed by Resto, with technical direction by Armando Bravi. The actors were James Edward Becton, Kate Ruby Klefner, Brandon Ruckdashel, Evelyn Sullivan, and “Sordid Lives” veterans Daniel M. McHenry, John Van Ness Philip, and JC Sullivan. All, save Ruckdashel, played multiple characters, from various walks of life. Pianist Perry Townsend provided musical interludes, drawing on George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel, and Johann Sebastian Bach pieces, leavened with his own compositions, one of which found him reaching inside the piano to pluck the strings.
In 1972, artist Evans, portrayed here by a silent Ruckdashel, placed a huge steel art installation—looking like a stanchion on its side, with a different geometric shape at either end—in a public place in what the publicity described as “a gritty section of Cardiff, South Wales,” and taped passersby’s reactions to it. The compelling artwork certainly got people talking—they railed at it, denounced it, questioned it, puzzled over it, tried to understand it, admired it, dismissed it, and wondered if it was really art. Evans taped their remarks, which he and Leila Philip have turned into a play. Though a photo of it appears on the postcard advertising the run, no image of the sculpture appears on stage—it was effectively evoked, however, through the reactions it inspired and by the actors’ canny delivery.
I wrote down four dozen of these responses to it. My favorite, though I just had the opportunity to transcribe it in part, was, “It’s like some politicians … very attractive, very useless.” Here are some others:
The concern: “Is it something good for the children to play on?” “Someone’s going to get injured” climbing on it. ”They’re not going to leave it there, are they? It’s an obstruction!” “Is it staying just like this? … It blocks out our businesses!”
The questions, which the inscrutable artist does not answer: “What did you mean when you made it?” “Why did they let you put it there?” “Is it a bridge?” “What’s it for?” ”Exactly what is it altogether?” “How much did you say it cost? 15,000?” “Where do we go from here?”
The colorful ridicule: “I’m absolutely flabbergasted. It looks like a vast piece of metal.” “It looked like something that had come off the Queen Mary.” “I have to see the monstrosity that they put there yesterday.” “It’s a nothing.” “It’s dead. It’s like a blob.”
The praise: “It’s provocative … It’s teaching me about thought.” “I’d say it’s about six or seven tons … It’s the work of a tradesman … There’s something about it … It’s the work of a craftsman … I think it’s really nice … There are those who admire it.” “Kids are enjoying it … They think it’s a playground.” “It’s different anyway.”
The attempts to grapple with it: “It’s way bigger—it’s hard to describe.” “It’s some sort of geometric shape.” “A conglomeration.” “I assume it was some peculiar monument to somebody.” “A long pillar with a rounded piece.” “Different people’ll read different things into it.” “I wonder what it was intended to be.” “Nobody seemed to know what it was for.”
The indignation: “There’s just no beauty in it.” “Total waste of taxpayers’ money!” “It’s taking up so much room!” “That big thing!”
The dismissals: “I don’t care whether it remains here or not.” “Very plain, isn’t it? Doesn’t turn me on.” “Young people go in for this sort of thing.” And a good-natured, “I don’t know anything about it—I’m a Scandinavian seaman.”
The self-appointed art critics: “It didn’t seem to fit the surroundings.” “I don’t appreciate modern art very much. I don’t like it.” “It’s a bit odd.” “I think it’s terrible … It’s ugly!” “It’s very impulsive … What is it?” “It’s very austere, isn’t it?” And finally, a helpful suggestion, “Some nice pictures. If they put in pictures …”
If “Cardiff” comes ’round again, be sure to catch it.

 

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