First workshopped as part of Nashville Repertory Theatre‘s Ingram New Works Festival back in 2014, playwright Doug Wright‘s “Posterity”, went on to an Off Broadway run in 2015 and has now returned to Nashville Rep where it’s in the midst of a three-week mounting at TPAC’s Johnson Theatre through Saturday, February 25.
Directed by Nashville Rep’s Artistic Director, René Copeland, “Posterity” invites the audience into the private art studio of renown Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (Patrick Waller) as the city of Oslo is considering commissioning him to create a bust of noted playwright Henrik Ibsen (Chip Arnold). Ibsen’s name is no doubt familiar even to the casual theatre-goer, for having written “A Doll’s House” and “Hedda Gabler”, among other great works. As for Vigeland, he’s arguably best known for having designed the Pulitzer Prize medallion, a nice wink from Wright whose 2004 work, “I Am My Own Wife”, won the Pulitzer for Drama.
Rounding out the cast are Bobby Wyckoff as Sophus Larpent, Vigeland’s solicitor and friend who’s acting as middle man for the proposed sculpting job; Daniel Collins as Anfinn Beck, Vigeland’s apprentice and occasional figure study model; and Ruth Cordell as Greta Bergstrom, an aging domestic worker who poses for the sculptor’s female anatomy references.
On the subject of Collins and Cordell as models, prior to the show’s opening weekend, a local TV station sensationalized the aspect of the show’s nude models by reporting that there’d be nudity on-stage, even making jokes about the work’s title, “Posterity” and the word ‘posterior’. Not sure why Nashville Rep even agreed to do this bit of publicity. While Collins does indeed disrobe at the top of the play as Anfinn prepares to sit for the sculptor, he does so behind a sheet, then strategically and quickly wraps the sheet around himself, completely, and modestly covering any part of his anatomy that would be considered being ‘naked’ on stage. As for his female counterpart, Cordell enters the room already wrapped in a larger sheet and when she sits to model, the sculptor simply pulls the draping down to expose her shoulder blades and nothing else. Considering I just spent time addressing the undressing of the models, I guess I’ve answered my own query as to why the above-mentioned news report occurred….publicity.
There’s a bit of superfluous subplot involving Greta’s desire to break away from the confines of her life as a maid, and Anfinn’s hopes of fame and fortune as a sculptor himself, and to the actors’ credit, their scenes are engaging and provide a bit of personality and levity to the show as a whole, but the main action is set by way of a visit from Wyckoff’s Larpent, who’s shocked to see his own housekeeper scandalously posing for the sculptor. Shock aside, he gets to the matter at hand by informing Waller’s Vigeland that the arts council will give him the chance to sculpt Ibsen, but only after the playwright has an audience with the sculptor and finds him agreeable. Vigeland reluctantly agrees, but with an agenda of his own. He’ll sculpt a bust of the writer if Larpent then helps convince the council to fund Vigeland’s masterpiece, a multi-figure, larger than life fountain, his own idealized legacy.
Though the initial interaction between the sculptor and the writer, the audience is treated to a few biographical facts about Ibsen as Vigeland refers to newspaper items, review and even gossip rag entries of the day as he’s trying to get beyond the surface of his potential new sculpture subject.
The true crux of the play centers around their egos, their initial disdain of each other, and eventually, their inevitable similarities and the age-old concern of artists the world ’round, the legacy they’ll leave behind. The mere fact that 21st century theatre audiences are watching a play about the two of them–most notably Ibsen, whose “A Doll’s House” is considered by many, the most-performed play of the 20th century–could answer that question in itself.
Arnold’s Ibsen, with his almost cartoonish shock of silver hair and setigerous mutton chops initially appears as an aging lion, but like the lion in “The Wizard of Oz”, as the audience, and the sculptor get to know him, he’s revealed to be a sad, dying man whose gruff exterior simply hides a man longing to leave his family memories of a loving father.
Waller’s Vigeland also experiences a bit of a transformation. From the start, he’s perceived as only agreeing to this commission in order to be granted funds to create what he perceives as his masterpiece, but after the aforementioned biographic attack on Ibsen, once he begins to understand the man and not the legend, Vigeland understands his greatest accomplishment just might be to help the dying writer be remembered for more than just words on a page, his or someone else’s.
On the subject of Vigeland’s masterpiece, Gary C. Hoff, Nashville Rep’s Resident Scenic Designer has created a gorgeous set. Having been in my fair share of art studios, Hoff captures the look and feel down to the most minute detail of discarded clay, wire foundations and an overabundance of works in progress and completed now conceded to sit in judgement on the shelves above the artist as if overseeing his every new creation. But it’s the grand scale of the set’s frame that’s most intriguing. The entire stage is surrounded by what appears to be elements of Vigeland’s dream masterpiece, as it’s made up entirely of twisted figures entangled and climbing atop each other, perhaps a hint of what Vigeland is willing to do to achieve his initial goal. Aided by Darrin Levin’s lighting design, the framework, not only looks like a finished sculpture, but at times seems reminiscent of the intricate crevices and ridges of the brain, mirroring the eventual depth at which our two artists finally find common ground–the perception of their true posterity.
“Posterity” continues its three-week run with performances at TPAC’s Johnson Theatre (505 Deadrick Street) through Saturday, February 25. In an effort to make theatre accessible to everyone, Nashville Rep’s “Posterity” will offer a PAY WHAT YOU CAN performance at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 22. To take advantage of this special promotion, simply mention the Promo Code: REMEMBER in person at the Box Office (G Level, just inside the Deadrick Street entrance) anytime between 5 p.m. and 6:25 p.m. prior to Wednesday’s show. “Posterity” concludes its run with performances Wednesday and Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., a Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m and a final Saturday evening show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45-$50. Click Here to purchase, or visit or call the Box Office at 615.782.4040.
Up next at Nashville Rep is “A Raisin in the Sun” starring Matthew Carlton, Brandon Hirsch, Lauren F. Jones, James Randolph, Tamiko Robinson Steele, Jackie Welch and Eddie George, onstage March 25-April 15. Click Here for tickets or more information. Be sure to follow Nashville Rep on Facebook to stay informed on upcoming ticket specials. Click Here to purchase tickets or to check show dates and times. Click Here to follow Nashville Rep on Facebook. Click Here to follow them on Instagram, and Here to check out their Twitter account.
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