Binary Theatre Company’s most recent production, “The Pornographer,” is not about porn in the traditional sense or even about sex, but about how an artist’s work is misconstrued as being vile filth. The play is a fictionalized account of the real life of Austrian artist Egon Schiele, who was charged and put on trial for kidnapping and raping a young girl and exhibiting erotic art in public.
Graduate theater student Adriano Cabral plays the role of Schiele. He drives the play and not only sustained the momentum throughout it, but elevates it as it progresses. The play is an hour and a half long, and Cabral doesn’t leave the stage once. Graduate theatre student Meg Sullivan plays Wally, the only girl that truly cared for Schiele. Sullivan’s portrayal presents Wally as strong willed. She perfectly balances empathy and disgust for Schiele and his work. Both Cabral and Sullivan play perfectly off each other.
Freshman theater student Sydnee Peralta is Tatjana, the young girl that Schiele is accused of raping. Peralta’s shy naivety and child-like demeanor is pitch perfect. Freshman computer science and theater student Chad Palmer plays Gustav Klimt, Vienna’s best-known artist at the time. Palmer takes the role as half-mentor and half-friend, playing both with the greatest of ease.
Rambod Derakshani, the only non-student actor, plays the Judge. The Judge is the polar opposite of Schiele. As Schiele is for radical expressionism and freedom with his exotic arts, the Judge represents censorship and a conservative morality. Derakshani took the character and made it his own, making the Judge wonderfully cold, harsh and self-righteous. Even though the play has few actors, each actor stood out on his or her own and each took a share of the limelight.
Kirt Shineman, the writer and director of “The Pornographer” is a graduate theater student. He is also a communications professor at Glendale Community College. His vision between what he wrote to how it is performed is seamless and organic.
Every play is practically a sum of many small choices. Each choice Shineman made was brilliant. For example, easels circulate around the stage. Not only are they used in the story, but they also represent censorship, a major motif of the play. Schiele viewed his art as reflections of real life with all its imperfections. The center stage symbolizes how life truly is, while the easels obstruct the audience’s vision. Just like how the Judge constructed Schiele’s work from the public eye, the easels are blocking the audience’s view of reality. Choices like this are why “The Pornographer” is so compelling.
“The Pornographer” is about asking the hard questions. Who should determine what people can see? Who has the right to tell anyone different? Is there a limit to what an artist can create? And if so, where can the line be drawn? Underneath Egon Schiele’s story is an art history lesson. Censorship in Schiele’s day is still relevant to how art is censored today in America. Schiele’s story is tragic and enduring, but the core of the play is asking the audience what can be considered art. This is why “The Pornographer” should not be missed.
Tickets can be purchased on Binary Theatre’s website.
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