by Raphael Badagliacca

Magritte SQRThere is something surreal about Governors Island. Only 800 watery yards from the southern tip of Manhattan, it is a world apart. Its leafy 172 acres, purchased in 1637 for two ax heads, a string of beads and a handful of nails, magically transform the demeanor of city dwellers as soon as they step off the ferry. So it only makes sense that the painter most closely identified with surrealism should have a house here.

Magritte’s house is for sale. You are invited to an open house which is the play, moving from room to room through the two-story dwelling where you will meet Magritte, his wife, his lover, his wife’s lover, his drowned mother, Mr. Fish, and the memory of his father whose recent death has triggered the potential sale. You will also encounter objects familiar to anyone who knows the paintings – a pipe which is not a pipe but is a pipe, some very green apples, bowler hats, a rose of indeterminate color, faces masked with cloth, and talk of water, water everywhere.

There were seventeen potential buyers who took the house tour in my group through space and time and the life of the artist.

Director Tess Howsam does an admirable job of threading the work of eight different playwrights into a single cloth. Blaire O’Leary takes full advantage of her show-stealing part as Regina Magritte, the painter’s dead mother, replete with seaweed hanging from her wet, bedraggled hair. She is a mass of eloquent complaints, accusations and unsatisfied longings. She also plays the silent, expressive part of Sheila Legge, Magritte’s lover, masked throughout and never a word uttered.

Max Henry Schloner gives us a sensible, if understated Magritte, at times mystified, like the painter must have been to create such works, resigned to the place in the world art has brought him, full of rationalizations and private ecstasies he doubts can be shared.

Georgette, wife of the painter, is played by Anya Krawcheck, with the resignation of an intelligent woman with limited options. Being the wife of an artist is fraught with challenges, even a famous artist. Being the wife of a famous artist with a very visible mistress increases dissatisfaction with the way of things by orders of magnitude.

Mr. Fish (Lee Collins) is the only one with a plan and a directed sensibility, maybe because he is only questionably human. He wants the house. He wants to return it to the river with the drowned mother who chose a water death over life. It’s why he’s here.

Danny Wilford, who plays Georgette’s reluctant lover, impresses us as Fantomas, who leads a wordless, masked dance that reminds us that the upheavals of WW I are as responsible as personal catastrophes like those of Magritte for the emergence of surrealism. Wilford is also the show’s choreographer.

Then there is the Ignorant Fairy (Molly Bicks), a no-nonsense creature who makes it clear that this play is more critique than homage of the artist, artistic presumptions and an artist’s life — so inadequate a response to reality, but what else do we have?

Throughout the play, there are show-stopping lines of exquisite beauty about time, place, death, life, art, self, and the world delivered on an other-worldly island surrounded by water.

The Enchanted Realm of Rene Magritte

by T. Adamson, Blake Bishton, Simon de Carvalho, Eric Marlin, Matthew Minnicino, Ran Xia, Emily Zemba, & Laura Zlatos

Created & directed by Tess Howsam

with Molly Bicks, Lee Collins, Anya Krawcheck, Blaire O’Leary, Max Schloner, Danny Wilfred

Assistant directed by Molly Bicks; lighting design by Sara Gosses; sound design by Carsen Joenk; costume design by Matsy Stinson; featured music by Simon de Carvalho & Gabe Medd; choreography by Danny Wilfred; art design by Ken Ard, Bibiana, Andrea Caldarise, Lavinia Roberts, Sara Sciabbarrasi, Nick Stryker

Brought to you by The Exquisite Corpse Company; Governors Island, Nolan Park, House 17; through September 25, 2016, Saturdays & Sundays, 1 PM & 4 PM  tickets