Wednesday, September 25, 2019

“Blood, Water, Paint” Renews

(Joe Iano)

Blood Water Paint
Macha Theatre Works
(at 12th Avenue Arts)
Through October 6, 2019

2015 brought us the world premiere of a play by Joy McCullough about a little known 17th Century painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, titled Blood Water Paint. As good art often does, it may have galvanized audience members to find out more about this amazing painter and appreciate her for many other aspects beyond her paintings.

In particular, we find an amazing tale of a 17-year-old girl in a highly restricted, patriarchal society, who was able to identify a sexual attack as rape, say so publicly, and accuse the man, Agostino Tassi, a well-known painter who had been her tutor, in court! How do we know? The transcript of the trial still exists!

However, the trial backfired on this young woman because in order to “prove” that she was telling the truth, they applied a torture mechanism to her fingers that destroyed her hands! This, in order to make sure she was really telling the truth, and to a painter! Somehow, she withstood the torture and the man was exiled.

Though this episode was horrendous, what we know of her is embodied in her amazing art work that she was thankfully able to create after her hands healed enough. And no surprise, paintings of iconic Biblical women like Judith and Susanna, women who triumphed over their own traumas, were painted by a woman with real passion and evocation. And where needed, lots of blood! (One of her paintings reference in the show is coming to Seattle Art Museum in October!)

Judith, during a time of war, sneaks off to the enemy general and ingratiates herself to him so that he is beguiled and sleeps and then cuts off his head and delivers it back to the Jewish people. Susanna, a married woman with a good reputation, bathes in her garden, but is accosted by a pair of unscrupulous townsmen to please them and when she doesn’t, they accuse her in order to have her stoned. She is able to defend herself, barely.

The male painters at the time created passive sweet pictures of these women that could claim no authentic reflection of their real lives. The triumph of Gentileschi is that her paintings survive today and show how she, a mere woman, was able to gain notoriety for her actual work and to shake up the established “art society”.

Now, the same director, Amy Poisson, now of Macha Theatre Works, has decided to reprise the play, staged with a new vision using aerial work to bring a more magical realism into the work. Poisson has the characters of Judith and Susanna (Meredith Armstrong and Leah Jarvik) swing from blood-red silks, giving them a more poetic perch from which to exhort Artemisia to be strong and believe in herself.

The play makes intricate time changes, from Artemisia (Bianca Raso) the 17-year-old, to Artemisia the mother, teaching her small daughter Prudenzia (Alysha Curry) to paint, to Biblical times and the individual stories of Judith and Susanna.

Included in the play are Artemisia’s father (Michael D. Blum) and Tino (Tim Gagne). Note: There is a rape, which can be triggering for some, but she is taken off stage and returns clearly injured.

You have a couple of more weekends to find out about this wonderful, strong woman painter who was able to crack open the societal strictures of her time and break her glass ceiling to become a great painter.

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