By Holli Harms
There’s a new kid on the block and she’s a spectacular showoff, but then she has a lot to show off.
The Shed, New York’s latest venue for the arts, is a colossal modern piece of art itself. It is six stories high with a bar and bookshop in the main lobby on 30th Street just off of 11th Avenue. It is a glass enclosure, like no other, with escalators taking patrons up to the four performance spaces. 30th Street has been transformed into offices, apartments, art, shopping, people watching, a foodie haven and The Vessel, New York’s newest tourist landmark that is meant to be walked up with views of the Hudson and the stunning buildings that now make up Hudson Yards. Start spreading the news New York, New York just got even better.
The Shed’s Griffin Theater is a 500 seat house. There are no bad seats. The space is large but not overwhelming. It has the feel of an intimate black box. The seats are self-collapsing allowing the audience to stand for others to enter without being encumbered. It is details like this that separate The Shed from other large venues. Tickets prices vary from show to show and space to space, but start at $20 and up to $189.
Commissioned to debut The Griffin Theatre is Anne Carson’s Norma Jean Baker of Troy. A spoken word, musical performance piece that interweaves the Hollywood myth of Marliyn Monroe with the Greek classic myth of Helen of Troy and looks at the sexual position of women throughout history and the men who abuse it.
It’s New Year’s Eve,1963, New York City and the countdown has begun, the ball about to drop, and a man enters his office, a large space with old metal desks, lamps and files. He hangs his coat and hat on the coat rack, goes back out into the hall and retrieves two suitcases and one pink hat box. He takes out from one of the suitcases a tape recorder and a box of cassettes. He puts a cassette into the tape recorder, turns it on, picks up the microphone and begins to record the play he is writing. Minutes go by as he continuously checks his watch and a woman enters. She hangs her coat on the coat rack, takes her hat off, goes to the desk opposite the man, turns on the light and sits. He takes out a large bundle of bills and hands them to her. She counts the money. He takes out of the suitcase a Stenotype machine. She sets it up, rests her hands on the keys, and so it begins.
Norma Jean Baker of Troy is a 90-minute piece citing the lives of two of the world’s most beautiful women and how they were brought down by their beauty and the insatiable desires of the men around them. Carson, a professor of the classics, a poet, a performance artist, and composer Paul Clark have created this theatrical poem that is a controlled explosion, a spiritual transformation of narrative with song and chants and sound and words, using the incomparable Renée Fleming’s voice as the soundtrack to the night. She is both live and taped and we get to sit and listen to her harmonize with herself in everything from opera, to spirituals, to 40’s big band, to chants. “It’s a disaster to be a girl,” she chants/sings again and again. Inciting the difficulties that women face and have faced.
Fleming is a treasure. As is Ben Whishaw and his powerful delicate self. He is a gift to the theatre on both sides of the pond. Whishaw dictates most of the play he is writing to Fleming. As he dictates, he slowly becomes Marilyn, donning clothes and makeup, the writer becoming the character.
The dialogue is so rich, every sentence a delicious taste in your mouth. “Sometimes I think language should cover its own eyes when it speaks.”
Director Katie Mitchell’s hand is a slow reveal that eventually blasts out the myths of the characters, the story of writers, the audacity of life and those who create art, and love. In a word, “sublime.” The entire production.
Norma Jean Baker of Troy written by Anne Carson, directed by Katie Mitchell, composer Paul Clark.
With: Renée Fleming and Ben Whishaw
Production: Lily McLeish- Associate Director, Alex Eales – Set Designer, Sussie Juhlin-Wallén – Costume Designer, Anthony Doran – Lighting Designer, Donato Wharton – Sound Designer Robert Currie – Collaborating Artist, Lucy Martin – Assistant Costume Designer, Lisa Hurst – Production Stage Manager (United Kingdom rehearsals and New York)
Norma Jeane Baker of Troy at The Griffin Theater ( The Shed) 545 W 30th Street, Floor 6, New York, NY 10001
PERFORMANCE DATES April 6 through May 19, 2019 Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm
Running time: 90 minutes
no intermission, no late seating
TICKETS on sale at theshed.org and via phone at (646) 455-3494.
The Shed’s entrance takes time so get there early. Early enough to enjoy the surroundings.