THE ARTSHOW by Alanis King, directed by Paul Thompson, with Jani Lauzon, Lorne Cardinal, Sarah Podemski and Gloria Mae Eshkibok. Presented by Native Earth Performing Arts at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to March 14, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $17-$22, Sunday pwyc. 416-366-7723. Rating: NN
An artist of daphne odjig's sta ture deserves better than The Artshow , a confusing, blotchy show apparently inspired by her life and work. The renowned Odawa artist, part of many prominent international native art exhibitions in the 1970s and 80s, was a member of the colloquially named Indian Group of Seven in Canada. Her work was likened to Pablo Picasso's, and she was one of four artists commissioned to paint a memorial to him after his death.
Most of this information comes via the program. What ends up onstage in this Native Earth production directed by Paul Thompson is a paint-by-numbers affair with lots of numbers missing.
The opening, it's true, is intriguing. On a raised floor that's made to look like an easel, four actors squirm in Martha Graham dancer fashion under stretchy fabric in solid colours of red, yellow, blue and brown .
We get the symbol. Then Odjig (an underused Jani Lauzon ) announces that she's been commissioned to paint a history of her people for Ottawa's Museum of Man. OK, now we've got a goal.
But what follows - criticism about art scholars, trips to Europe, some sexual punning and a skewed chronology - merely confuses.
An early statement that Odjig likes being a painter because she can erase has lots of dramatic potential, but it's only explored theatrically once, when Odjig gets upset with the way a scene is going and says, "Let's change the colour," and the scene changes.
King never finds the key to Odjig. Colleagues are mentioned for no reason. The painter's relatives come and go. A mother dies with little emotional effect. A husband is mentioned as if he's a delivery man. And why does Odjig admire Picasso so much?
As a young girl, Odjig's criticized by her Catholic nun teachers for steering away from realism, and we sense the artist's frustration. But that little detail, along with a perfunctory shot at censorship, are the only themes that emerge with any clarity.
Bonnie Devine 's sets and costumes evoke the artist's palette of colours, and the piece has an often whimsical style, with spirited performances by the ensemble.
But those wanting a rich understanding of Odjig's life and art would do better looking at the paintings themselves.