Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, like an observer /participant in a fever dream, revisits fragments of his childhood and catches glimpses of past times in Montmartre. Aaron Cromie’s good-natured portrayal reflects the real Lautrec, who retained his artist’s eye and famed geniality even as he joined his friends in their sad retreat into alcoholism and the dementia of syphilis. Lautrec’s exuberant exaggerated posters, with their graphic blacks and glorious colors, advertised the public face of the Moulin Rouge and Aristide Bruant’s cabaret. But his other drawings, paintings and lithographs, particularly the intimate Elles series, exposed the flipside of his beloved Parisian cafes and bordellos.
On the warmly lit stage with curious wood cabinets, a skeleton, and a piano, the women dance and sing, pose, act up, and suffer. A cute little skeleton puppet, masterfully manipulated by ensemble members, recalls incidents in Lautrec’s childhood. And, evoking his painting, “Medical Examination,” a grotesquely tall doctor ministers to Lautrec and to ill and dying unloved whores. Heath Allen’s music and lyrics, along with bawdyhouse piano and accordion, underscore the scenes and accompany us into La Belle Époque’s sordid underbelly of illness and drunken delirium. Director Mary Tuomanen, the cast and creative team offer an unflinching view of the world of the artist chronicler who ventured behind the scenes of fin de siècle illusions. THE BODY LAUTREC presents the artist’s unsentimental but empathic view of the demimonde, as he translates misery into enduring art.[Caplan Studio, 211 S. Broad Street] September 12-21, 2014, fringearts.com/the-body-lautrec.
Read another Phindie review of THE BODY LAUTREC.