In case I’ve not mentioned it, I am a big, big nerd. A lover of various genres – SciFi, some Fantasy, an original Trekkie and Star Wars fan. But I go gaga over the oldest of genres: I love History. I read History, and alot of it. I study it. And as a playwright, fully half of my work is inspired and informed by historical events. Want a feminist play? How about ‘Perfect Faith’, the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, history’s first kick-ass female philosopher. I could go on, but…
But, let’s get to the review. “The Pitmen Painters” at Theatrical Outfit. This wonderful gem is inspired by a true story, that of a group of English coal miners who challenged themselves in the 1930’s to become better persons. If this seems a trifle dull as a starting premise, I raise my hand again to say, yes, but it’s a true story and within the working out of just what that means – to better oneself – lies a world of possible. The men show up for what they think is a class in Art Appreciation but when they begin to challenge their instructor with the big questions – like, What is Good? How do you define it? the class which quickly morphs into an exploration of those questions through their own personal journeys of creation; in short, they become artists. And the question becomes, ‘Am I good?’ which as any artist knows, is THE question.
It’s the 1930s and it is hard to imagine a more difficult life than that of these men, and the first thing I’d like to applaud about TO’s production is the brilliant staging and movement work that allows us a glimpse of that repetitive, back breaking work through simple use of properties and furniture. Chairs, easels, simple boxes are moved in the process of scene changes but in ways that mimic and echo the workaday lives of the men. Honestly, it was my favorite part of the production – watching an easel turn into an anti-aircraft gun. Chairs, become mine cars. Complex manipulations that appear effortless – brilliant work and my only question was, was this loaded into the script – does playwright Lee Hall get the credit? – or was it the work of the director, Adam Koplan. Glancing at Mr. Koplan’s resume, I’d guess the latter.
The cast, a collection of fine Atlanta actors, were each and everyone a treat, performing their individual roles with both standout character and ensemble worthy teamwork. TO’s usual outstanding scenic effort does not disappoint.
History and Theatre, in small story that takes on big questions. Just doesn’t get much better than that for this nerd.