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In 1912, painter Egon Schiele spent 24 days in a rural Austrian jail charged with immorality and seduction of a minor. Ever the self-dramatist, he kept an anguished journal and lent his prison paintings such meek titles as “Hindering the Artist Is a Crime, It Is Murdering Life in the Bud!” and “I Feel Not Punished but Purified!” (The journal entry reading “I must live in my own excrement. . . . I am unshaven!” gives the lie to the latter.) Based on Schiele’s diary and the details of his trial, playwright Julia Jordan has crafted the speculative fantasy Tatjana in Color. The play centers on the painter, his model, and the young girl whose boasts and accusations brought about the arrest.
Like many of Schiele’s canvases, the play is somewhat attenuated and fragmentary. Long scenes and speeches detail 12-year-old Tatjana’s (Kate Wetherhead) infatuation with Schiele (Glenn Fitzgerald) and the way she lords her new acquaintance over her younger sister Antonia (Nicole Lowrance). Sometimes this succeeds, particularly in the conversations between Tatjana and Egon’s model/mistress Wally (Rebecca Wisocky). Too often it proves repetitive and recursive, representing scenes that might easily have been left to audience imagination.
Tonal difficulties emerge as well, particularly in the cruel-cutesy exchanges between the sisters. It’s clear that Jordan intended these scenes to provide a counterpoint to Tatjana’s relationship with the adults, but they mainly allow the adult actresses to demonstrate their abilities to play (quite convincingly) children. Far more compelling is Wisocky’s portrayal of the seductive, conflicted Wally. With her long legs, strong chin, riotous curls, and deep voice, Wisocky’s a pleasure to watch. If only Jordan had shaded the palette in favor of more stage time for her.