"Shock of the Real" is a lavish look at a movement that more or less came and went nearly half a century ago. Of the roughly 18 artists generally considered to make up the first generation of the movement — including Robert Cottingham, Richard Estes, and Ralph Goings — nearly all of them are amply represented in the show, which also includes works by nearly a dozen other artists from the second and third generations of photorealism. That adds up to roughly 70 pieces, making this an impressively ambitious survey of what should be thought of as a movement in only the loosest sense of the word. The practitioners of photorealism never issued manifestos or drummed people out of their ranks for not adhering to a set of aesthetic rules. Rather, they seem to have arrived at and embraced their common style independently. That said, it is somewhat remarkable to note, as you move through the exhibition, the consistently high quality of the work.
This self-described "ongoing traveling exhibition that humorously and critically interrogates the debated contemporary philosophy of intelligent design" is an immersive experience that transforms FAU's Schmidt Center Gallery into one big multimedia installation. It's also a collaboration, with more than half of its 70-odd pieces created by New York-based artists Michael Zansky and D. Dominick Lombardi, rounded out by the contributions of ten other artists, most of them local. What it isn't is coherent overall, although each individual work speaks to the concept of intelligent design by referring back to its creator just by its very existence as a work of art. As impressive as some of its components are, however, it's possible to leave the show feeling vaguely dissatisfied, as if the whole affair is an elaborate put-on with an elusive punch line.
Playhouse Creatures could have been a simple thing: a funny, minor show about the lives of the first actresses allowed to grace the male-dominated stages of England. As it happens, it's far more. Playhouse Creatures begins as a ribald sideshow and ends as a serious meditation on the objectification of women in the Age of Enlightenment, and as it moves from one to the other, the play strives to be everything — to evoke every emotion, to elicit every reaction, to express seemingly every idea that playwright April De Angelis ever had about women, life, and ambition. It succeeds. The scenes are fast and over-the-top, just like the outsized acting, which seems more suited to a big, booze-drenched 17th-century playhouse than the tiny Sixth Star Studios. Take Linda Bernhard's performance as an aging actress who is slowly eclipsed by younger, less talented but bigger-bosomed rivals. She grieves like Maria Callas in Medea; a grief so large and loud that it'd be ridiculous if it weren't pitch-perfect. But Playhouse Creatures always is. As it dispatches with such divergent subject matter as love, money, art, sexism, the pyre, prostitution, and abortion, Playhouse Creatures remains shocking, novel, balanced, and, in the end, moving.
The Bridegroom serves as a quirky mélange of Appalachian folk myths wrapped around an improbable tale of Civil War-era grief, love, and revenge. If you're acquainted with Dylan's Basement Sessions or Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, The Bridegroom's improbabilities won't bother you at all. Unfortunately, the silly Carolina accent of Susan Cato transforms the show from surrealist tragedy to accidental comedy. Word has it that Cato has toned down her accent from early showings. But even if she hasn't, Bridegroom audiences can still dig the performance of actor Todd Allen Durkin, who plays the town of Blowing Rock's lovelorn minister. His four or five scenes are easily the show's strongest, and his romantic ineptitude is so funny and so perfectly realized that audiences will leave wishing the guy could have a show all his own.
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Sex Drugs Rock & Roll shall be one of the Sol Theatre Project's last hurrahs. This is both sad and apt, for these are the very things that Sol has spent the past decade injecting into SoFla's flabby, geriatric theater scene. Hard to know what we'll do without them or how the region's high culture will fair without uneasy little gems like this one, which comprises nine monologues from three actors who riff on the terrors of poverty, the omnipresence of feces, the glories of white flake Peruvian cocaine, the price of coffee, the fundamentally violent nature of the deity, and how awesome it is to have a long, nicely shaped prick. These are the things they won't teach you at Caldwell Theatre, and I suggest you take the opportunity to learn them now. The chance won't last: Sol Theatre is for sale, and its mastermind, director Robert Hooker, will be in the Carolinas before summer's out.