Review – Botallack O’Clock – Third Man Theater at Old Red Lion Theater

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Plays about artists. How do you do it, really? How do you show the creative process? Playwrights, well, they’re easy; and for some reason people have tended to think (especially in film) that painters can be shown … well, by showing them painting. But that’s not really showing the creative process. And I don’t think showing them dealing with their personal relationships really captures it either. So this play, to my relief, has taken a completely different approach to showing how an artist works.

But first, a little background. Roger Hilton was a painter who lived in the Cornish town of Botallack from 1965 until 1975, when he died. This play is set at some point during the last two years of his life, which he spent essentially living in his bed and painting over its side, onto sheets of paper on the floor and, apparently, drinking like a fish. It’s the wee hours of the morning and Hilton is bouncing around his flat my himself … well, more like flopping that bouncing. He’s talking about what he has to drink, he’s talking about the little things that interrupt his thinking, he grumbles about the cat drinking his paint water. And then he turns on his radio, and he starts talking to it.

Hilton’s ramblings (as imagined by Eddie Elks) cover a bit about his life and a bit about his art, but what I think they’re doing on a bigger level is showing the leaps that the artist makes from one idea to the next, from the mundane to the bigger arc of life to what it’s like to be an artist to … well, everywhere. To Lear, to women, to bears, to Beethoven. All of these things make the soup that forms his brain and somewhere out of this the art comes out. As a work of written theater, it’s quite a feat to string so much randomness together, but, as a work of watched theater … well, there may have been an arc but I didn’t see one for the character or a story; it was just like bobbing around in somebody else’s brain. Dan Frost was very convincing, but I found myself not really happy at going on this ride; rather, I was restless. What I think Botallack O’clock has created is a very convincing imagining of what really goes on in the mind of an artist; I’m just not convinced that I wanted to go on that trip with him.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, January 21, 2015. It continues through February 6th at the Old Red Lion.)

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