This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



John Kelly examines the chiaroscuro world of Caravaggio in THE ESCAPE ARTIST at Performance Space 122

Performance Space 122
150 First Ave. at Ninth St.
Through April 30, $15-$25

Visual and performance artist John Kelly, who recently embodied Austrian painter Egon Schiele in the final presentation of his multimedia piece Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte at La MaMa and has previously examined such figures as Antonin Artaud, Jean Cocteau, and Joni Mitchell, is delving into the shadowy world of Italian Baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610) this weekend at PS 122 in the solo work The Escape Artist. The 2010 Ethyl Eichelberger Award winner has collaborated with avant chanteuse Carol Lipnik on several original songs for the show, including “The Dazzling Darkness,” “Cara Viaggio,” and “Beauty Kills Me,” as well as versions of the James Bond theme “You Only Live Twice” and Monteverdi’s “Oblivion Soave,” with arrangements by John DiPinto, who also plays the piano, accordion, and flute, Nioka Workman on cello, and Justin Smith on violin. The three-channel video design is by Jeff Morey. The Escape Artist was previously performed in various workshop and work-in-progress productions at Dixon Place, the Park Ave. Armory (where Kelly is an artist in residence), Galapagos, MASS MoCA, and the San Diego Art Museum; the run at PS 122 is its official world premiere. A limited amount of tickets are still available for tonight’s 8:00 performance and tomorrow’s 8:00 and 10:00 shows, which conclude the two-week schedule, but you better grab them fast or they’ll be gone.

Update: In The Escape Artist, John Kelly portrays a man who, shortly after being blown away by seeing paintings by Caravaggio in a museum, suffers a serious trapeze accident that lands him in the hospital with a possible broken neck. Kelly spends the majority of the seventy-five-minute multimedia production flat on his back on a table that represents a gurney, his head immobilized, as he ponders his future through songs and images influenced by works by the daring Italian Baroque artist. Kelly often stares into a camera above that projects him onto the center of a three-channel video installation, making it appear that he is looking directly at the audience as he shares his fears while drifting in and out of consciousness, his dreams and an out-of-body experience projected onto the screens. Kelly is often flanked by videos of characters re-creating actual canvases by Caravaggio, but with such additions as a rope that represents the trapeze accident; the men occasionally sing backup, their prerecorded vocals melding perfectly with Kelly’s often live projection in the middle. Kelly also adds wonderful touches of carefully controlled movement, lifting his legs slightly, raising an arm, pointing a finger, that signal his desperate need to be free of his physical (and mental?) constraints and return to the art of creation. Despite a questionable finale in which he brings out an electric guitar, The Escape Artist is another splendid evening of experimental theater from one of New York City’s most adventurous artists.

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