Kehler Liddell Gallery

Trial By Friendship

American Buffalo, first produced in 1975 in Chicago, then on Broadway in 1977, is noted as the play that established playwright David Mamet as the premiere poet of American speech—emphatic, riddled with profanity, full of vague nouns with referents that change according to context, with meaning guided always by inflection.  Mamet’s influence has been so pervasive that it’s hard to say at times whether he simply found the means to convey the way we talk or in fact invented a mannerism we now recognize as our own.  It does seem to be the case that the dialogue in his plays has ceased to be unsettling and become “normal.” Staged in Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery, the Elm Shakespeare production of America Buffalo, directed by Mark Zeisler, could be said to offer an immediate contradiction: Mamet’s trio of seedy shop flies in an art gallery?  Could it be that Mamet’s style of visceral, streetwise theater has become a museum piece?   Perhaps, as there’s no denying that the used goods shop that comprises Elizabeth Bolster’s spare but effective set is situated in a setting that is genteely artsy.  It might’ve been interesting to have staged the play in some abandoned New Haven retail space, but, that said, the fictional shop the characters inhabit wouldn’t be out of place on Whalley Avenue, home of the gallery, and so the immediate locale lends a certain aura of authenticity to the production.

The play itself is dialogue driven, so there’s no problem staging it in a confined space, and the closer the audience is to the action, the better.  We hover on the periphery of the card table, small desk and display case of the shop, watching interactions that could be taking place in our midst.  With no great distance to overcome in the staging, this American Buffalo finds its virtues in being intimate and realistic, its scale measured to a confined space we share with its characters.

The cast is uniformly excellent.  As Donny Dubrow, the proprietor of the store, Tracy Griswold looks perfect for the part—lean, experienced, accommodating.  He appears as a small-time businessman, essentially trusting, but also on the lookout for weaknesses in others that may be to his benefit: the kind of man who could strike a hard bargain or choose to be generous, as he sees fit.  His plan to pull off “a score” on an unsuspecting well-heeled guy who visited his shop earlier and paid $90 for an American buffalo nickel is the dramatic focus, and, though criminal in his intentions, Donny is the good heart of the play.  Donny’s effort to remain simpatico with his confreres, even when they lie to him and bully him, is of the essence of Mamet’s vision of the odd sincerities found in the midst of the dog-eat-dog world of daily life, an essence that Griswold’s face is able to express as he listens to the others.

As Bob, an addict who Donny would like to help, by employing him as his errand boy, and who he tries to mentor in a small way, Ryan Barry owns the part.  He’s got the requisite slow speech, seemingly of one not all there, but he also can convey the idea that Bob is sharper than we—and his friends—think he is.  Bob is a man of few words, almost everything he says is pulled out of him by Donny, and Barry is terrific at making Bob’s minimal words carry the weight and ambiguity Mamet requires.  He has a tendency to repeat what’s said to him, a buying-time device that also seems to question everything he’s told, and, often, even what he himself says.  This is important because how the plot “resolves” has to do with when Bob is lying and why.  Zeisler’s actors are able to express a lot about their characters when they are silent as much as when they speak.

As Teach, the friendly nemesis of the slow-talking duo, a garrulous ne’er-do-well with an inflated opinion of himself, James Andreassi is a live wire.  He pitches his voice to achieve what seems always to be a reasonable tone, even when he’s spouting nonsense or berating others for situations he himself creates.  He has the ability to apologize and accuse in the same breath.  In Teach, Mamet creates an important American type: the mastermind of speculative supposition.  Teach has an explanation for everything, a way of creating narratives that suit his turn of mind, usually based on suspicions, irritations, gripes and grudges.  Constantly wiping back his longish hair, throwing his size around, restlessly grabbing chairs, checking himself in the mirror, looking musingly or anxiously out the storefront at the street, Andreassi’s Teach is a man of useless activity, all his energy in service to a fantasy in which he makes a big score or saves the day.  The drama of the play is to watch how his reckless need for control and self-assertion brings everything to a standstill, and, as Donny says, spreads “poison.”

American Buffalo is about small-timers in hard times, grasping at straws.  The bleakness of these characters’ lives comes out slowly, allowing us to sympathize with their criminal plot, if only to see something go right for them.  A working assumption of the play is that when “bad guys” are our “heroes,” someone will have to be worse than bad.   Rather than scaring us with ruthlessness, the method of Zeisler’s production is to make these guys, even Teach, likeable enough and typical enough—and funny enough—to keep us on their side, sort of, to make us relax and accept them, so that their moral lapses and failures of imagination are ours as well.

Local in feel, relentless in pacing, familiar in its hard truths, Elm Shakespeare’s American Buffalo delivers.

American Buffalo By David Mamet Directed by Mark Zeisler, with: Dave Stephen Baker (Sound & Original Music), Elizabeth Bolster (Costume & Set Design), Jamie Burnett (Lighting), Emily DiNardo (Stage Manager), Emmett Cassidy and Liz Cecere (Tech Crew)

The Elm Shakespeare Company May 10-13 and 17-20

The Kehler Liddell Gallery 873 Whalley Avenue, New Haven

For tickets and information: / 203.393.1436 /

Art in Westville: Frank Bruckmann and Susan Clinard

Hey, we owe these guys!  Kehler Liddell Gallery was more than kind enough to play host to our book party on Tuesday, December 7.  At the party, attendees were actually privy to the art exhibit mentioned below prior to its official opening by about five days.  (See, there really are benefits to subscribing!) We're happy to return the favor!  Come see the show and get some of that culture thingey that Sarah Palin is sooo lacking in.

Bruckmann and Susan Clinard

December 9 – January 16, 2010

Kehler Liddell Gallery 873 Whalley Avenue New Haven, CT 06515 tel: (203) 389.9555

Gallery Hours: Thursday, 11-8pm; Friday, 11-4pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10-4pm; or by appointment.

Kehler Liddell Gallery is pleased to present a two-person exhibition of new paintings by Frank Bruckmann and new sculpture by Susan Clinard that revel in the spirit of antitechnology art to communicate emotion and allegory.

Before moving to New Haven, Frank Bruckmann studied at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he spent nearly a decade in France and Spain coping the masters in the great museums and painting landscapes in the cities and countryside. These years of intense study inform his rich palette and humanist depictions of contemporary America, which provide him with endless sources of inspiration. Both a plein air and studio painter, Bruckmann paints that which surrounds him. Past series depict local merchants in their shops, cityscapes of downtown New Haven, sublime views of West Rock, and landscapes of Monhegan Island, Maine, where he frequently travels.

For this show, Bruckmann will present new small and medium sized paintings of the volcanic Gabbro rocks in Monhegan that are more detailed and abstract than anything he has done before. The paintings investigate the mysterious surfaces and orifices of the purple-black rocks, delicately cut by white lines (quartz) and speckled with orange clusters (fungi). The paintings investigate new textures, shadows, colors, and reveal secret biological world that fights to live in places the human eye cannot see.

Susan Clinard is one of those rare artists who can work in wood, clay, bronze, stone and metal. Real people, experiences, and stories inspire and inform her work, which confront issues of inequality, fear, compassion and courage. Since giving birth to her first son in 2004, motherhood and life cycles have become major semi-autobiographical themes.

For this show, Clinard has treaded on radical new ground, and will present a series of mixed media wunderkammers, (“cabinets of curiosities”). Wunderkammers were popular toys of nobles in the late 1500ʼs, before the advent of public museums. These cabinets, ranging from small boxes to library-sized rooms included collections of oddities that belonged to a specific natural history—precious minerals, strange organisms, indigenous crafts, collected from civilizations and placed in a microcosmic memory theatre. Clinardʼs wunderkammers incorporate this idea of the biological unknown, and organize the various found elements in compartments that suggest an internal, psychological narrative. Each cabinet shelters its own landscapes, precious moments, and measurements of darkness and clarity.

Clinard will also present a new major installation titled “Procession,” which incorporates figurative elements that she is known for. Unlike her traditional clay busts, the line of male figures is roughly cut, minimal and distorted. Positioned on a wheeled platform, the men move in a unified direction with a clear purpose, lending to a strong compositional impact. The work responds to the ceremonial weight and cultural significance of processions in contemporary and ancient history-- their association with life, death and strength in unity.

We Like Parties...and So Do Our Writers

From the New Haven Independent:

Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery has long established itself as a place to view masterful paintings, prints and sculptures, but its use as a space for a variety of cultural and community events continues to evolve. Tuesday night the gallery was host to a book launch party by New Haven Review Books—“the world’s latest small press for high-quality fiction, nonfiction, and poetry” according to Review co-founder Mark Oppenheimer.

...The press celebrated Tuesday night the release of its first three trade paperbacks, featuring the work of Brooklyn-based novelist Rudolph Delson, New Haven area poet Charles Douthat, and Hamden novella master Gregory Feeley. Douthat and Feeley were on hand to sign their books, read selections and mingle with well-wishers, as guitar and fiddle musicians Craig Edwards and New Haven Review co-founder Brian Slattery (of The Root Farmers), provided musical accompaniment.

Platters of exotic cookies dotted the gallery space, comfortable among new artworks of painter Frank Bruckmann and sculptor Susan Clinard, whose opening reception will be held Sunday, Dec.12 from 3 to 6 p.m. The powerful two and three-dimensional works created a haunting synergy while the authors read from the pages of their newly published books.

And there's more.  Read the whole article here.

Oh, and thanks to David Sepulveda, journalist extraordinaire.

The Art of the Matter

 ART1-550x480 “Art” by Yasmina Reza first appeared in Paris in 1995.  Shortly afterwards it was translated into English for the British stage and turned up at the Royale Theatre (now the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre) on Broadway on March 1, 1998.  The cast was stellar for this three-person play, performed without intermission.  The six-month Broadway run included Alan Alda, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina, all well known film and theatre performers.

 The recent weekend performances of the play at the Kehler-Liddell Gallery in Westville this April were perhaps a little less glamorous but were easily just as powerful as its Broadway version—in some ways even more so. Where the Royale Theatre seats 1,100, Kehler-Liddell’s impromptu bleachers and 60 some chairs transformed what on Broadway can only have been an all-too-impersonal experience into an intimate tete-a-tete between audience and performers. Placing the play within a gallery reflected, if anything, the mutual trust exhibited by gallery staff and the Elm Shakespeare Company, which was responsible for this production.

This element of trust is no small matter in a play as powerful as Reza’s. The setting is simple enough: the living rooms of the three characters—Marc (James Andreassi), Serge (Tom Zingarelli), and Yvan (Raphael Massie)—which remains unchanged throughout the hour and twenty minute performance. The key conflict is unsettling, one that should worry any gallery owner in the business of selling art. In brief, Serge, a dermatologist and divorcee, has purchased for 200,000 francs a five-by-four-foot painting of white lines on a white background. This decision immediately upsets Marc, an engineer who condemns the work as trash, to the dismay and disdain of Serge. Their seeming arbiter is the hapless and “chaotic,” soon-to-be-married Yvan.

 While hardly a tale of war or woe, Reza’s play disturbs the universe of art and, as becomes shortly evident, human relations. The opening gambit in Reza’s backhanded criticism of postmodern art—and possibly of poststructuralism, a distinctly French phenomenon that Reza undoubtedly had to live through—is the all-white painting that is the object of Serge’s veneration, Marc’s rage, and Yvan’s confusion. But “Art” goes beyond the obvious conundrums formerly presented by Marcel Duchamp’s institutionalized snow shovels and urinals. (Does something become ‘art’ by virtue of hanging in a museum? What if you pay 200,000 francs for it?) It goes after the relationships among the characters, since it’s on the blank whiteness of the canvas that their relationships are ultimately inscribed, evoking a range of emotion that drives them through the convolutions of feeling that by play’s end leaves the audience near breathless with the verbal pyrotechnics of it all.

This is where mastery of the material makes all the difference, and the ensemble put together for this production really does have firm control of that material. The snugness of the venue and the simplicity of the set demand a conciseness of body language that is belied by the explosiveness of the characters’ pent-up feeling. The contrast of so much energy to be conveyed in so contained a setting ultimately creates a bond between players and spectators that only a great performance in the right environment can convey.

This simpatico between audience and ensemble seems exactly the intended goal of this experiment by Elm Shakespeare Company and Kehler Liddell Gallery to bring high art of high quality to New Haven’s neighborhoods. “Westville is something of an arts district already strong in the visual arts with its many galleries,” noted Elm Shakespeare founder and director James Andreassi. “Elm Shakespeare’s goal was not only to find an indoor space for performing smaller plays but also to take advantage of the artistic energy in Westville and deepen it by bringing the theatrical arts to the neighborhood.” In that regard, Elm Shakespeare both follows in the wake and leads along with works that have been aired by New Haven Theater Company, Broken Umbrella Theatre, and Theatre 4.

This article is cross-posted at the .

Upcoming Stuff in New Haven

Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, who is currently the James Weldon Johnson Fellow at the Beinecke, is reading at that august repository of valuable manuscripts, 121 Wall St., this Wednesday, Nov. 18th, at 4 p.m.  Read my discussion of her book Native Guard here. Local poet Don Barkin, author of That Dark Lake, will be reading his poems on Friday, Nov. 20th, 7 p.m. at the Kehler Liddell Gallery, 873 Whalley Ave.  The event is co-sponsored by the Kehler Liddell Gallery and the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance.  Check out my article on Don's book in this Thursday's Advocate, or online.

Both events are free and open to the public

And on Thursday night, Nov. 19th, The Yale Cabaret, 217 Park St., is holding a fundraiser.  In this unique event, audience members will be hit up for suggestions, and the Yale School of Drama folks (students, faculty, staff) will have 60 minutes to bring the audience desiderata together in 15-20 minute pieces, to then be performed for the audience who will judge the best piece, according to announced criteria.  So if you've ever wanted to be in on a creative team, as well as a critical voice in awarding merit, here's your chance.  It's also a chance to support this very worthwhile theatrical endeavor.  Tickets are $20.  Doors open at 6 p.m. for seating and bar service.  6:30-7 p.m. is the time of the teams and planning; 7-8 p.m., dinner service is on; 8 p.m., the show begins.  Contact: 203.432.1566, or online at