John Kelly Channels Painter Egon Schiele As He Breathes, Ducks, and Dies Through Art

La MaMa hosts a noted downtown revival

The two Alter Egons perform small roles and act as stage managers, wheeling or carrying objects around. When the painter throws himself onto his new wife, they pull the couple offstage on the red cloth that serves as a bridal bed. Most importantly, they team up with Kelly, arm-in-arm or pasted together spoon-fashion, to expand on Schiele’s life in small movement sequences. While his mistress negotiates with him for a continued relationship, the two men join Meehan to form a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil tableau. They dance expansively too, and I wonder a little about this. Even used minimally and in passing, an arabesque conveys something outside Schiele’s cloistered world. I also initially queried Kelly’s references to Giselle—using Adolphe Adam’s famous score and approximating the heroine’s steps (including her dizzying hopped turns when she’s first awakened from death into a deadly afterlife). But this may be an allusion both to the artist’s demonic possession by his work and to art that exists after death.

Austrian Expressionist meets New York performance artist. Again.
Steven Schreiber
Austrian Expressionist meets New York performance artist. Again.

Details

Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte
By John Kelly
Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa
66 East 4th Street
212-465-7710
December 2 through 19

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Pass the Blutwurst, Bitte is stunning at almost every moment (I might except the long sequence of hard-to-decipher, posed slides of Kelly that indicate Schiele’s debilitating time in prison, as well as images here and there that seem too obvious, like the cloaked specter of death that wanders out of a barrage of smoke). In wonderfully artful ways, Kelly balances crudeness, delicacy, and tenderness. In one lovely vignette, while Edith Schiele—alone, nearing her term, and knitting baby clothes—seems to be worrying about her husband’s absence, one of his surrogates (Murphy) is in fact beside her, kneeling to hold up the skein of yarn that she is winding into a ball. Twice the ball slips from her hands, unrolling like her soon-to-end life.

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