A bespectacled fellow (Steven Conroy) walks onstage and introduces himself as sculptor Claes Oldenburg. He invites you on a journey about love, death and understanding, then steps away as a black-and-white video pops onto a screen, revealing an eccentric collection of people frolicking in a field, perhaps an homage to modern art from Dadaism forward.
Thus begins a fanciful and engaging multimedia meditation on art and the marriage of true minds. The New York-based troupe, No. 11 Productions, several of its members recent products of Skidmore College’s theater program, devised the piece.
Titled “Coosje,” after Oldenburg’s late wife and close collaborator, the art critic and scholar Coosje van Bruggen (Julie Congress), who died in 2009, the piece tells its story with piquant live music, whimsical videos and a life-size singing and talking Pear (Sina Heiss). In a bulbous green costume and hat with a stem, Pear travels the world in the name of her fellows, those forever trapped in trees, fruit salads and still lifes.
While huge pears do figure prominently in at least one Oldenburg-van Bruggen work at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the singing Pear interludes that break up the narrative don’t comment all that directly on the rest of the story. Her travel songs (by Danny Tieger) have musical charm but not always distinguishable lyrics, as the actress’s voice competes unplugged with amplified accompaniment. The tuneful melodies please the ear, but they don’t add a new level of understanding.
That emerges in the short, sharply penned and acted episodes tracing the love story and artistic partnership of Claes and Coosje. The two meet as Claes installs a sculpture in a museum where Coosje works. When asked for an opinion, she says, “It’s big — but I don’t like it.” That sets off a never-ending debate as the two fall in love and marry, over how to conceive monumental sculptures and how to place them in the world.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
Written by No. 11 Productions. Directed by Ryan Emmons. Music and music direction by Enrico de Trizio. Songs by Danny Tieger. 60 minutes. Through July 16 at the Goethe Institut Gallery, 812 Seventh St. NW. Visit www.capfringe.org.