TATJANA IN COLOR
The Trial of Egon Schiele
By JULIA JORDAN
Based on the run beginning October 25, 2003 at The Culture Project, NYC
Director and Sound Designer WILL POMERANTZ
Produced by ALLAN BUCHMAN
Lighting Designer JOEL MORITZ
Costume Designer DEVON PAINTER
Stage Manager CAT DOMIANO
Publicity RON LASKO, SPIN CYCLE
Tatjana von Mossig – Kate Wetherhead
Antonia von Mossig – Nicole Lowrance
Egon Schiele – Glenn Fitzgerald
Valerie "Wally" Neuzil – Rebecca Wisocky
Von Mossig/School Teacher/Judge – Brad Bellamy
In his relatively short life, Egon Schiele created much art and generated perhaps even more scandal. By the time of his death from influenza in 1918 at the age of 28, Schiele had survived jail, war, and outlived his own wife and unborn child, who succumbed to the same ailment just three days earlier. Influenced and befriended by the greater known Gustav Klimt, who also died in 1918, Schiele himself did not begin to gain critical success until shortly before his death.
While Schiele died without ever enjoying his budding fame, his art has lived on. Now, a slice of his life is being dramatized on the New York stage in Julia Jordan’s ambitious TATJANA IN COLOR, a skillful blending of fact and fiction. Specifically, it deals with the events leading up to and including Schiele’s 1912 arrest, imprisonment and trial after the artist was accused of abducting and raping Tatjana von Mossig, a twelve-year-old girl who modeled for him. (in most published accounts, Tatjana is reported to have been 14) Here, the abduction is not dealt with, making the focal point of the trial Schiele’s sexual conduct.
Ms. Jordan has made her own clever artistic choice to tell the story from Tatjana’s perspective. Here, she is a girl coming of age who wants the mysterious and scandalous local artist to find her beautiful. She wants to model for him, and does so not only willingly, but excitedly, as was apparently the case with many young people who posed in the nude for the real Egon Schiele. As theater, the play falls somewhere between being stylistically self-aware, and good, engaging storytelling.
TATJANA IN COLOR is awash in orange, the symbolic import of the orange, and the historical detail of the orange (Schiele’s drawing of his prison holding cell included an orange, the only object in the sketch that had any color). This seemingly unseductive fruit draws Tatjana to Schiele initially, becoming the Viennese version of Eden’s apple. Tempted by the fruit, Tatjana indulges in it, stakes out the artist’s house, and becomes a fixture there. In fact, there is much food-related indulgence. There is posing for pastry, cooing after coffee, and sheer madness for sugar. Surely, this is the view from the childish mind. Surely, this was, in part, the mind of the real Tatjana von Mossig.
Perhaps the greatest surprise in TATJANA IN COLOR lies in the fact that Schiele himself is the least interesting character. On an adult level, he is not seductive, not charming, and terribly smug. His only remarkable quality is his great artistry. However, as played by Glenn Fitzgerald, it suddenly makes perfect sense that Schiele was attractive to youngsters, for we can see how even this, the drab onstage version of Egon Schiele, may have had some success if his models were so set to succumb to a sugar fix. Much more provocative are the title character, Tatjana von Mossig (Kate Wetherhead), a mouthy, precocious twelve-year-old, and Valerie "Wally" Neuzil (Rebecca Wisocky) as Schiele’s paramour and adult model. In equally vital roles, we have the 10-year-old Antonia (played with the palpable energy of a little girl by Nicole Lowrance), and the stalwart Brad Bellamy in a triple role as father, teacher and judge.
In terms of tone, Ms. Jordan walks a fine line in TATJANA IN COLOR. This is very adult subject matter told through a child’s eyes. Sometimes there is just plain girlhood silliness going on simultaneous to moments of attempted lovemaking between Egon and Wally. It feels a little weird, but then, was it not very weird for Schiele to be asking girls to pose in the nude even when physical sexual contact is removed from the equation? Yes, of course it was, and that precarious line that was walked between the inappropriately obscene and the ill-advised stupid is tempered by the point of view employed. In Tatjana’s mind, she is an artist’s muse, doing nothing wrong, and aspiring to greatness.
Adding to the tone, and enhancing it, is Will Pomerantz’s artful hand as the director of TATJANA IN COLOR. Where we do not see Egon Schiele’s actual portraiture displayed onstage, we see Wally striking poses from his works against the backdrop of an orange wall. To heighten the audience’s sense of Tatjana’s excitement over being in Schiele’s presence, his most mundane motions are delivered with drama. Coffee being poured and sugar being stirred become events, as staged here, as if we were looking through her young, impressionable eyes. The moody lighting and simple sets enhance the vision, and the knockout period costumes by Devon Painter complete the picture.
As theater, TATJANA IN COLOR is imperfect but impressive. It is a worthy vehicle to showcase the many talents involved, most especially playwright Julia Jordan who, as stated earlier, has ample skill when it comes to adapting reality in a way that is dramatically sound.
- Kessa De Santis -