Compelling theatre can be found everywhere these days if you keep your eyes open for- out- of the way spots. Art House in Jersey City is one of those. Founded sixteen years ago, this consortium for visual and performing arts have opened a new space on Cole Street, inside a residential loft building.
The season opens with Sara Farrington's Leisure, Lust with a middle section Labor that will be developed during the company’s month in residence.
Inspired by the worlds of Edith Wharton and Jacob Riis, Leisure, Lust takes on quite a few issues: gender, sex, love, and mental illness are but a few the ambitious Ms. Farrington weaves into the two- hander acts.
I’m glad I didn’t read the playbill beforehand as I was both surprised, pleasantly confused and quite satisfied by part one, Leisure. In it, two women, one a Wharton type, are dealing with the recent death of the mistress’s husband. As played by Gabriella Rhodeen, Grace is superior, fragile and purely romantic. Her body language speaks volumes, from despair to hunger, all within the delicacy of her class. Her servant, Lucy, (Stephanie Regina) is completely opposite; accepting of her lower status with full earthy authority, she handles her boss with the same skills we can only imagine she has used to handle a much tougher life. When they speak of the visitor, I waited to see the rest of the cast, and was surprised that Lucy assumes the male visitor role of Delancey as they travel through time, back and forth, in the dance of adultery. Their passion is palpable; Lucy fully assumes the masculine position of those days and there is much to learn about gender games from this piece.
The second half, Lust, is less successful. Perhaps it is more exciting to watch a performer show us the dance of courtship through playing the opposite sex. Here though, Harry, (Kyle Stockburger), weak and spoiled, doesn’t’ seem to deserve the attentions of Delancey, a lower class man who entreats Harry to run away with him. Delancey, now is played by a man (Christopher Tocco), and while both do credible work, it just doesn’t add up to the same tension and mystery that shrouds part one. Granted, there is a lot for them to handle –being gay, and being class opposites. They, being men, unlike the cossetted Grace, are more able to quench their desires, and that is something I would like to see explored more fully.
I am curious where Labor will go and give much credit to both Ms. Farrington and her director, Marina McClure for weaving such a unique look into the social history of America.
The show will run October 26 through November 12 with a staged reading of Labor at the November 12 matinee. There is a shuttle that runs from the Path train to the theater.