Hip Shot: Coosje
Gallery – Goethe Institut
Saturday, July 12 at 2 p.m.
Sunday, July 13 at 8:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 15 at 8:00 p.m.
Wednesday, July 16 at 8:00 p.m.
They say: In this whimsical love story inspired by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, two sculptors learn to collaborate in life and art. Meanwhile, a pear falls out of a fruit bowl, gains consciousness and travels the world.
Greg’s Take: There’s a simple test that you can use at home to determine if No. 11 Productions’ Coosje is right for you: If someone were to come up to you and say “One of the characters in this three person show is a globe-trotting talking pear,” and you were to reply “That wouldn’t happen,” then it’s probably better if you give this one a miss. However, if your response is “Cool!” or “Hot damn!” or something of that nature, then you’re going to want to read these next few paragraphs.
Coosje, (pronounced “KOH-shuh” as both the title character and the program bruskly inform us) is an interpretive biography of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, the husband and wife pop-art duo responsible for the comically large typewriter eraser that stands guard at the north entrance of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Meanwhile, as I’ve mentioned, there’s a side-plot involving an inexplicably sentient pear and its jet-setting adventures.
It wasn’t abundantly clear during the show what connection if any the two storylines had to one another. Claes and Coosje (played by Steven Conroy and Julie Congress) go through their lives, their careers, and their love for each other while elsewhere Sina Heiß’s pear grows into her new existential awareness. Oddly enough, out of those three characters it’s the talking piece of fruit that seems the most human. Heiß embodies the glee - and inevitable disillusionment – of someone for whom everything is new so fully that she’s not only easy to connect with, she’s also weirdly easy to envy; I certainly can’t remember the last time I was that overjoyed about spending days and days on a Greyhound bus. Conversely, Claes and Coosje seem to spend almost every moment on stage discussing art or authorship or meaning or semiotics or the genesis of ideas or some other clever point that the authors — the books is credited to No. 11 productions and the lyrics to Danny Tieger — decided to meditate on.
Which is not to say that that’s all they do. There’s one startling moment where Conroy and Congress recline on a giant donut to lovingly dress each other in age makeup that was so tender and beautiful it actually made me gasp. It’s just that there’s a lot of moments where the conversation turns to art too soon, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been cheated out of a glimpse of real human emotion.
If Coosje has a major failing it’s that it chooses to discuss aesthetics far more often it chooses to discuss people. But if it has a major success it’s that its tiny moments of humanity come from the oddest, most delightful places. See for example the aforementioned pastry makeout scene, or the concluding moment when fruitworld and humanland finally collide. After Claes, Coosje and Pear have all wound up alone on their journeys through life the latter, in an apparent gesture of consolation, climbs up on stage and hands a despondent Claes a gift: a tiny edible replica of herself.
Like I said, I wasn’t quite sure throughout the play what the connection was between these two 20th century sculptors and a talking pear. But after an extended episode of Googling — which, let the record show, Coosje was intriguing enough to inspire — I came across a piece the two created in 2002 for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. It’s called Balzac Petanque and it involves multiple tumbling pieces of fruit, some of them peaches, some of them pears. The museum’s description of the piece, in its own academic yet reverent sort of way, sums up the best of what No. 11 Productions has here to offer: “By creating a small disturbance in the form of toppled fruit, Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen invite viewers to discover the links between objects, emotions, and memory. In so doing, they make concrete the magic of moments that look both forward and back.”
See it if: That sentence in the first paragraph, or one the subsequent sentences, made you go “Hell yeah!”
Skip it if: You’re one of those other types of people.