No, it’s not Occupant by Edward Albee. The playwright’s name comes first in this title, which may indicate a slight insecurity with the material, a desire to make sure everyone knows the writer is that icon of American theater and not some schlub off the street.
Even though his name is above the title, marquee-wise, this play is not an ego-driven work. Instead it is an almost gushing tribute to Russian-born, groundbreaking sculptor Louise Nevelson, a long-time friend of Albee and a figure of imposing importance in the art world.
The structure of the piece is simply an interview, a historian with an encyclopedic knowledge of la Nevelson is asking questions of the admittedly long-dead artist. They both seem mildly amused by that situation, but they then launch into a Q & A that covers the entirety of Nevelson’s colorful life.
Everything, it seems, is touched on: her hard-working immigrant family, her unpleasant marriage, her sexual dalliances, her son, and finally her art.
With apologies to Mr. Albee, the best thing about this production is the acting. Under the precise direction of Greg Cesear, the two actors spin a sublimely hypnotic world. George Roth plays the sometimes challenging, often fawning interviewer with just the right touch of deference and devotion.
And as Nevelson, Julia Kolibab is a dark eyed force (Nevelson was famous for wearing multiple sets of sable eyelashes), dispensing truths and fictions about her existence with the same assuredness. Kolibab is a stunning presence, and you wish she’d go on talking for much longer.
This is not exactly a flawless production, however, since the script often seems like a glorified Wikipedia entry, albeit written with the wit and deft conversational feints that only Albee can concoct. And the insights, such as they are (“If you’re lucky enough, you become the person you are inside.”) are not exactly Earth-shaking.
And one wishes that more time was spent on the struggle of this inspired woman to work her way through the male-dominated art scene, and on her particular artistic vision.
Ah well, we’ll take what we can get. On a handsome set design by Laura Carlson Tarantowski, replete with Nevelson-like artifacts featuring detailed monochromatic black and gold boxes, the show manages to retain one’s attention throughout.
Ms. Nevelson would have appreciated that.
Edward Albee’s OCCUPANT
Through October 12 at PlayhouseSquare, Kennedy’s, 1516 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000..