Greenhouse Ensemble offers its world premiere of Frank Tangredi’s Muse, a play which presents the story of a troubled, co-dependent dancer, Matthias (Matt O’Shea) and his struggling artist girlfriend, Sheila (Rachel Gatewood) on two different timelines – one, at the height of their troubled relationship and another, in its tragic aftermath.
Early on, Matthias declares Shelia to be his muse, and his devotion to her seems sweet and passionate. Sheila, sometimes restless under the weight of his affection, turns her attention to her art, which her sister Bernie (Reanna Armellino), an art curator, says is lacking personal passion. In a moment of inspiration, Shelia decides to paint Matthias, resulting in her creating four unprecedented personal masterpieces but then deciding she cannot love Matthias in return, a conclusion which leads to a fatal outcome.
The play drifts back and forth between scenes of the two lovers, and later, of their family members who have gathered.
Act One ends with Bernie bludgeoning the audience with the big bomb of what has happened to Sheila and Matthias, which was so obvious several scenes before that the play could have ended right there. Act Two does introduces the most interesting conflict, whereby Matthias’ parents, Walter (Robert Hickey) and Louise (Anne Fizzard) have found Shelia’s paintings in a storage unit and have approached Bernie and Shelia’s father Austin (Jeffrey Grover) about what to do with them. Bernie declares the paintings are brilliant and need to be shown, however Austin finds them disturbing, inappropriately erotic and wants them destroyed.
Tangredi’s script has some lines that could stand revisiting, but even in its lack of polish it does have good dramatic bones. Unfortunately, Muse fails utterly on delivery. Although the direction by Hazen Cuyler demonstrates some inventive staging in scenes which take place simultaneously in different times, it completely misses the mark by not insisting the actors listen to each other in earnest and find their dialogue organically. Thus, the acting is unilaterally unbelievable; the performances are stiff and filled with maudlin, melodramatic mugging and grandstanding.
Pearl Gopalani’s set design is uninspired. Except for a bar placed upstage, all set pieces are lined up facing the same way and on the same plane. Ariel Polanco’s choreography is intellectually interesting but isn’t fully realized by actors who just don’t move comfortably, and the music by Benjamin Sturley is ill-fitting and draws attention to itself rather than supporting the drama.
Ultimately, Muse needs to paint over its canvas and start again.
Muse (through April 30, 2023)
The Greenhouse Ensemble
The Tank, 312 West 36th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.greenhouseensemble.com/
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission