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Spoleto 2009 » Theater

J.C. Conway's powerful performance in Season to Season carries the day

Three women and one warped genius take the stage at Footlights

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First, a disclosure: By misreading the online schedule, I managed to miss the first 20 minutes of the Contemporary Theatre Labs' play Season to Season on Wednesday.

Ideally, I'd wait and write from a full viewing, but given this play's short run, I figured timeliness trumps thoroughness here. Season to Season is a serious but flawed work that deserves a good look from Charleston theatergoers, and waiting another day to write about it would do it no service.

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Wednesday's opening was a big step for Contemporary Theatre Labs, which performed the world premiere of playwright Richard Rashke's script at South of Broadway Theatre in North Charleston earlier this year. Critics liked it, audiences never found it, and so for the play and this fledgling company, Piccolo represents a chance to make a mark.

That's more than the usual pressure, and the cast seemed to stumble under its weight Wednesday. There were an unusual number of halting deliveries and awkwardly timed moments, as if the actors weren't yet in command of their lines after the layoff.

Opening-night jitters aside, there is much about this play that could appeal to a broad festival audience, starting with the script. Jackson Pollock's fierce painting demanded a great deal of the viewer, but Rashke's approach is remarkably accessible, providing a structure that's almost cinematic in its use of vignettes to advance the story.

To call Season to Season a play about art would probably miss the point: It's a love story about two artists, framed within a triangle of three women: Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner (Kristen Kos), his mother, Stella (Jacqualine M. Helmer), and his collector/patron, Peggy Guggenheim (Linda Eisen). The snappiest, most interesting dialog occurs between the women.

Within that structure, it would be easy to view Pollock more as archetype than as a fully realized character, and this is where J.C. Conway shows up big. Conway embodies Pollock with obsessed, brutish menace, balanced by a wounded vulnerability that never stoops to kitsch. Rashke envisioned Pollock as a force of nature, so the actor has to convey that force convincingly for the relationships in the play to work. Conway is so powerfully Pollock that the crew spent intermission repairing the furniture he had demolished on stage.

Season to Season is a sensitive, darkly funny play, and Conway packs an emotional wallop. Perfect? No. But certainly worth your consideration. —Dan Conover

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