AGGRESSIVE, exhibitionistic, zany, iconoclastic, the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali lavished as much obsessive detail on his celebrity image as on his hallucinatory lobster-telephones, boiled beans and flaccid watches.
Dali could be called one of the first performance artists, self-dramatizing to the nth degree, which makes him a ripe subject for theatrical presentation -- and the one-man show would seem the perfect format. But when playwright/actor William Freimuth attempts to distill Dali's essence in "Narcissus Bound" at Source Theater, he falls somewhat short of the mark.
Dali liked to hear himself talk (and talk), and here he speaks often of the absolute pleasure of being the center of attention. Freimuth gives us glimpses of Dali ranting and rebelling against the dogma and hierarchy of the Surrealists, led by high priest Andre Breton, who tried to exclude Dali and censor his scatological/political/religious dreams and sinful hallucinations.
While the subject is undeniably fascinating, it's difficult to penetrate Freimuth's brief play, which alights on an anecdote, then darts nervously to another. The Surrealists prized chance association highly, and this may explain Freimuth's structure, which sounds like pages torn at random from Dali's autobiography. But for those not already familiar with the artist's life, it is, in this state, a difficult play to follow.
Freimuth has chosen several flavorful scenes, and his characterization is energetic, suggesting Dali's manic lunacy. The actor anchors the program with a comic vignette of the debacle ensuing when Dali and wife/collaborator Gala created a commissioned window for Manhattan's Bonwit Teller department store. Freimuth's characterization is energetic with a taste of Dali's manic lunacy.
Bart Whiteman's spartan set consists of serial projections of some of Dali's paintings and a suspended circular mirror that Freimuth sets in motion, eccentrically altering his reflection as he reminisces.
"Narcissus Bound" is first on a twin bill of plays about men grappling with artistic images. Also playing is an encore of Thomas Gibbons' one-act "Homer," based on Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.