MEDICI SLOT MACHINE Ð THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOSEPH CORNELL by Mark Brownell, directed by Sue Miner (Pea Green/Theatre Voce). Tarragon Extra Space (30 Bridgman). To May 21. $23, stu/srs $20, Sunday and Tuesday pwyc. See Continuing, page 86. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) tried, through his collage boxes filled with found objects, to capture a sense of wonder and delight in the materials of everyday life. Mark Brownell 's Medici Slot Machine , based on Cornell's life and work, captivates us with a similar theatrical blend of surprise and pleasure. Our guide is Cornell himself ( James Kirchner ), a lanky, wide-eyed man in an oversized white suit, who believes that his creations embody what he called the "eterniday," an unchanging present more potent than the material world we live in.
His own story has the same sense of timelessness as he introduces us to his disapproving mother ( Terry Tweed ), his wheelchair-bound brother ( Clinton Walker ), a series of women to whom he's attracted ( Anne Page ) and other figures, both famous and unremarkable, who are part of his world (the mercurial Jonathan Wilson ).
Played out in designer Brenda Guldenstein 's large frame suggestive of Cornell's boxes, with a number of other boxes-inside-boxes, the production moves along swiftly under Sue Miner 's brisk, clever direction, both playful and light of touch. The script and the production underline the humour in Cornell's life, and the talented cast never lets the dramatic energy flag.
Walker's fine as the freedom-seeking brother and a smarmy art critic, and Tweed nicely underplays the sympathy-addicted mother who complains, when she discovers Cornell wants to be an artist, that she's wasted her money on piano lessons.
Wilson's very funny as various figures, notably an over-the-top Salvador Dali and a macho Jackson Pollock. Page captures the bevy of blonds from Dali's knowing wife Gala to a slack-eyed, nail-biting adventurer named Joyce who attract the ingenuous Cornell. Nina Okens 's sharp costumes and Philip Cygan 's lighting help define the characters and their relation to the artist.
But Kirchner's rightly in the forefront as the man who doesn't want to be pigeonholed in any artistic camp. The actor's never had such a chance to shine onstage as he does here. Shy and sensitive, his Cornell is frequently like a kid marvelling at candy store treats, but Kirchner can also reveal the figure's flip side, the overly trusting guy who's easily hurt. His totally engaging performance anchors a delightful show.