Presented by Artistic Stage Productions and The Stearn Company at the Chelsea Playhouse, 125 W. 22 St., NYC, Jan. 30-Feb. 24.
When the audience enters the Chelsea Playhouse, the stage appears to be covered by Louise Nevelson's sculptures. However, these are actually by Cory Grant, Paul Hudson, Magin Schantz, Jared Coseglia, and Katerina Fiore in Nevelson's unique style. Unfortunately, the new play, "Embers," isn't as authentic. Playwright Catherine Gropper hasn't done enough research on the life and career of the noted sculptress.
What facts we learn are these: that she was born Russian, brought up a son alone in New York, had trouble gaining acceptance, was difficult to work with, and felt cheated by her dealer. This could be obtained from the encyclopedia or the notes next to a sculpture in a museum. The characters remain labels: difficult artist, alcoholic son, self-effacing secretary, and devoted, loving friend.
Accordingly, the actors are unable to bring a great deal to their roles. Nada Rowand, dressed by costumer Terry Leong to look a great deal like Nevelson, has superficially acquired her mannerisms and demeanor, but we never really learn what made Nevelson tick. Kenneth Wilson-Harrington seems to think that playing an alcoholic means playing effete.
As none of the characters age, Melissa Wolff, who plays Dede (the young photographer who gives up her career to help Nevelson in her work), is unable to show us her descent into regret and bitterness. In the most underwritten role, Michael Graves is amusing as the Irish security guard who becomes one of Nevelson's staunchest admirers.
As the play is in countless scenes, Graham Kindred's lighting design is most notable for its endless blackouts. Aside from the artwork on stage, the single most effective element is Leviticus Gory's live soprano and tenor sax. Director Helena Webb should have found ways to avoid so many blackouts and to give the characters the quirkiness and color that the script sorely lacks.