Abrons Arts Center, Underground Theater
466 Grand St. at Pitt St.
February 22-25, $20
Abrons Arts Center and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York have joined forces for the US premiere of Compagnie l’heliotrope’s Pollock, a riveting show about the tempestuous relationship between Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, who met in 1942, married in 1945, and stayed together, through good and bad — primarily Pollock’s alcoholism and infidelities — until his death in a car crash in 1956. Written by Fabrice Melquiot and directed by Paul Desveaux as part of a trilogy about American artists that also includes works about Janis Joplin and Diane Arbus, Pollock unfurls like one of Pollock’s paintings, nonlinear, experimental, and abstract, forming an intense and entertaining whole. Pollock (Jim Fletcher) and Krasner (Birgit Huppuch) tramp barefoot across Desveaux’s set, which features a pair of transparent plastic canvases, a small kitchen area, and microphones at either side, where Pollock and Krasner share some of their tale. The stage is a metaphor for Pollock’s thoughts; “Jackson Pollock drags on his cigarette and now he’ll go / into / into the bar that functions as his head / Jackson Pollock’s head is a bar not a head all I serve in my bar is pure genius no ice it rips out your tonsils plucks off your uvula,” the Wyoming-born Pollock says. Brooklyn native Krasner adds, “That’s what genius is / Pollock / It’s on your face like a mark of shame you’d like to hide but it’s got you in its grip / It won’t let go will never let go drink all you like Pollock you’ll never escape it / It’s how you’re made it’s there it’s / It’s on your face on every one of your paintings poor love my poor love and because your face lets you see where to put your feet like the paintings help you stand up straight / You keep your beautiful face for all to see and tuck your crutches under your arm / Then your genius explodes / You don’t wanna fall flat on your face.”
The couple cuddle and argue, smoke cigarettes, drink from bottles, interview each other, dance, paint, and name-drop such friends and colleagues as Hans Hoffmann, Tony Smith, Pablo Picasso, Andre Derain, Pierre Matisse, Piet Mondrian, and Alexander Calder. They speak in poetic rhythms — the English translation is by Kenneth Casler and Myriam Heard — as they relate various aspects of their relationship, including events after Pollock’s death in a one-car accident that might have been a suicide; Pollock’s mistress at the time, Ruth Kligman, was in the car too but survived. “Painting / And killing myself / I don’t do anything else,” Pollock says. A moment later, Krasner examines a Pollock painting using mathematics and fractal density. “You’re exactly what I wasn’t expecting this evening,” he says. It’s not exactly what the audience was expecting either, but Pollock is an insightful and entertaining exploration of love and the creative process. Fletcher (Isolde, The Evening), a longtime member of Richard Maxwell’s New York City Players and who most recently played Lemmy Caution in Why Why Always at Abrons, Shaun Irons and Lauren Petty’s multimedia adaptation of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville, inhabits Pollock’s mind, body, and spirit, giving an expert performance that is complemented by Huppuch’s (Men on Boats, Telephone) bold, beautiful portrayal of Krasner, just as Pollock was complemented by Krasner. Many of the scenes and much of the dialogue were inspired by real episodes, as Melquiot and Desveaux drip, scratch, and splatter the elements together to come up with an impressive theatrical canvas.