Frieda Schiff, Later Mrs. Felix M. Warburg, 1894

Credit: Anders Zorn / Metropolitan Museum of Art/ Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Weekend Arts Preview: A Wizard, a House, and a Swede

March 7, 2013

What's on tap in the Boston arts scene this week? Jared Bowen shares his favorite plays and exhibits — and warns movie lovers to steer clear of "Oz the Great and Powerful." 

  Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America

On exhibit at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum until May 13.

Never heard of Anders Zorn? Well you’re not alone — and we can all be excused for not being familiar with the Swedish artist, because his luster has faded in America over the past century. Even Oliver Tostmann, chief curator at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, was unfamiliar with the artist until he came to the museum in 2011 and began to examine its collections.

Zorn, like his contemporaries John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer, was a painter too old to be an impressionist and too young to be a modernist. He was most prolific in the 1890s, the time period that the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum truly focuses on. Zorn captured the world around him — making images of social gatherings, bathers, and nature immortal. Zorn’s fascination with beauty led Tostmann to incorporate the word “seduction” into the exhibit’s title.

“It’s a very sensuous style,” he explains. “The colors are deep; you can see the brush strokes. There’s a sort of physicality about it which is just there.”

Isabella Stewart Gardner met Anders Zorn at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The two struck up a lasting friendship — one that allowed Gardener to amass a wonderful collection of the artist’s work. Visitors can see Zorn and Gardner’s relationship grow in a selection of personal letters displayed alongside the exhibit’s paintings, though only the letters from Zorn to Gardner survive. Mrs. Gardner was very protective of her legacy, and burned most of her correspondence before she died.

Paula Plum, Marvelyn McFarlane, Thomas Derrah, Philana Mia, Michael Kaye, DeLance Minefee, and Tim Spears in a scene from SpeakEasy Stage's production of Clybourne Park.
Photo Credit: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo / SpeakEasy Stage Company

Clybourne Park

Presented by the SpeakEasy Stage Company, playing at the Calderwood Pavilion through March 30.

I don’t hesitate at all to tell everyone to please go and see this stellar production. This play tears at your heart, provokes your intellect, and still manages to be ferociously funny. “Clybourne Park” won a Tony for Best New Play when it was still in New York, and at the SpeakEasy Stage Company it finds a cast fully equipped to tackle it’s depth and emotion. The play’s first act takes place in 1959. When a white family looking to escape trauma sells their house to an African American family, their white neighbors descend upon their home to try to talk them out of the sale. In the ensuing fight, a conversation about race relations in the late 1950s bruises and explodes.

Act two of the play finds the same house and the same actors, but tells a different story. Now the year is 2009, and a white family hopes to buy the home — which is now in a predominantly African American community. But in a true turning of the tables, the African American family is reluctant to sell to white buyers, as they hope to avoid gentrification.

In a compelling theatrical parallel, Clybourne Park is the neighborhood that inspired the play “A Raisin in the Sun,” which begins playing at the Huntington Theatre Company March 8.

Mila Kunis and James Franco in Oz the Great and Powerful.
Photo Credit: Disney

Oz the Great and Powerful

In Theaters March 8

Unfortunately for Frank L. Baum fans, this entry in the “Wizard of Oz” canon does not work. The movie follows the Wizard, who will eventually become the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz that Dorothy meets at the end of the yellow brick road, as he leaves Kansas and uses his magical tricks and charades to take control of the Emerald City.

To me, the production seems woefully miscast. Sam Raimi directs a cast that’s led by James Franco as the Wizard, with Michelle Williams as Glenda the Good Witch and Mila Kunis as Theodora the Witch. The only character who seemed to fit her part was Rachel Weisz, who played Evanora, another of Oz’s witches. The film is visually compelling, but a bit over produced — at times you can almost feel the actors walking in front of a green screen. In the end, this film just didn’t come together.

The Huntington Theatre Company

The Huntington Theatre Company has just announced its upcoming season — and it’s one to look forward to. The headliner for next season is an adaptation of Disney’s “The Jungle Book,” based on the book by Rudyard Kipling. This promises to be a big, splashy, lavish musical, and Mary Zimmerman, who directed “Candide” for the Huntington Theatre Company last season, will spearhead the production. I thought that “Candide” was the best production in Boston last year, so I can’t wait to see what Zimmerman has in store with “The Jungle Book.”

The season will also feature Anton Checkov’s “The Seagull,” Melinda Lopez’s “Becoming Cuba,” and Lidia R. Diamond’s sharp-edged “Smart People.” It’s a diverse season that’s worth marking on your calendars.  

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