Greene Naftali Gallery
508 West 26th St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves., ground floor
Wednesday - Saturday through February 10, free with advance RSVP, 718-622-0330, 7:00
Life and death, science and mythology, earth and water, and past and future merge in Richard Maxwell’s Paradiso, continuing through February 10 at Chelsea’s Greene Naftali Gallery. The sixty-minute show, set in a pre- and postapocalyptic time, concludes Maxwell’s theatrical trilogy inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, following The Evening and Samara. In Paradiso, characters search for hope and question faith amid grief and despair in an empty, almost blindingly white space save for three sets of three-row semicircular wooden benches for the audience; two pillars offer some respite from the desolation. The staging makes the most of the unusual gallery space; the large, long glass east side walls can open like industrial garage doors, through which Maxwell has a shining white SUV drive in. A home-made robotic figure that evokes Erector-set-level technology, with a small, creaking camera for eyes and a speaker for a mouth, gets out of the car and put-puts toward the audience. “The sky isn’t blue,” it says in somewhat garbled electronic speech. “It’s neither overcast nor sunny — it’s a white slate that blanks your eyes across the day and it daily worsens.” His long soliloquy, with his camera eye surveilling the crowd, is followed by short vignettes and monologues by Elaine Davis, Jessica Gallucci, Carina Goebelbecker, and Charles Reina as various mostly unidentified characters, from strangers and friends to family members facing dilemmas both vague and specific. Occasionally they break into slow, silent modern-dance movements.
Maxwell, whose first monograph, The Theater Years, was recently copublished by Greene Naftali, wrote and directed Paradiso, which, despite all the gloom and doom, is ostensibly about love, in all its forms. “Love has no merit nor no blame,” the robot says. “Love is all that remains,” a character opines. “We are loving. Paradise means to be with the people you love who you lost, to reside in all the energy and vitality of hope,” another character says, adding, “What am I saying? I don’t use words anymore. Fuck it, I can’t dwell on it, I have to move on.” Meanwhile, two people have tea. A man and a woman sleep in the desert. A couple helps their daughter following an operation. Everyone talks primarily in nonspecific dialogue delivered in an often straightforward, detached manner. Snippets give tiny clues to what might have happened, including a major war. “Who were the people who could have saved us?” someone asks. At the end, all that is left is the robot, spewing out a long, narrow sheet of paper that conjures up a neverending CVS receipt. The audience can go up and read what keeps coming out, a series of randomly generated scenes between multiple characters that has nothing whatsoever to do with what we just saw, except everything — little fragments of life, much like Paradiso itself, offering more questions than answers but clinging to hope in an indeterminate, potentially cataclysmic future.