Paul David Young
Jim Fletcher as Jackson Pollock fights with Birgit Huppuch (Lee Krasner) in Fabrice Melquiot’s Pollock (photo by Laurent Schneegans)
Pollock, a play by Fabrice Melquiot at the Abrons Arts Center, renders this quintessentially American, hyper-masculine, doomed painter through the foil of his wife, the artist Lee Krasner. But, as in life, Pollock obscures Krasner’s own story.
The Jackson Pollock legend is well known: a wild art star who died in a drunken car wreck in 1956, Christ- and James Dean-like at the age 44. Suffering from alcoholism and other mental illness, he had the necessary pathologies for the tragic Romantic genius in modern times. On page two of the Pollock script, Krasner says of him, “You owe your genius to a childhood illness/Incurable.” He needed to die, for story purposes.
The play, translated from the French by Miriam Heard and Kenneth Casler for this co-presentation by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in New York and Abrons Arts Center, dwells in a post-mortem dream space inhabited by Pollock and Krasner who speak directly to the audience, often on mikes, and only occasionally to each other. The facts of their lives are disclosed in no particular order, as the combative couple sort through the Pollock myth. The first monologue slams together Pollock’s dramatic death on eastern Long Island, his signature drip painting style, and the famous 1949 Life magazine celebration of his triumph.
The sturdy Jim Fletcher could not have been better cast as Pollock. Apart from his reliable acting, in a paint-splattered white T-shirt and jeans he looks tolerably like Pollock, with a similar pattern of male baldness. The altogether admirable Birgit Huppuch, though not as fierce as Krasner was, stands her ground well enough, her prim ensemble of a tailored top and plaid skirt remarkably paint-free.
In touching upon the operatic highlights of his short life, Pollock drops a lot of names. Pollock’s affair with Peggy Guggenheim flashes past, along with mentions of Henri Matisse, Betty Parsons, Le Corbusier, Tony Smith, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, and Alexander Calder. Fletcher partly reenacts Hans Namuth’s 1950 film of Pollock at work. Critic Harold Rosenberg’s writing on Pollock is quoted verbatim for a scene. Tennessee Williams comes and stays with Pollock and Krasner. The play refers to Pollock having homosexual contact during a gangbang, hinting at Pollock’s queer side, which he sometimes enjoyed in Tennessee’s company in the West Village and in Provincetown, as has been discussed in a biography, Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. Krasner likewise proudly affirms her free sexuality: “If I liked a guy/I slept with him.”……………..