July 16, 2010

Navajo play about Man Ray muse

Filling in the lines of an art-history mystery

An ambitious new work views the surrealists through a Native American lens.In the 1930s, Adrienne Fidelin, a young dancer from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, met artist Man Ray in France. The two hit it off and for several years she was his lover and muse. Fidelin posed for numerous photos and paintings, and was often captured cavorting with an artistic circle that included German sculptor, painter and poet Max Ernst; surrealist painter and novelist Leonora Carrington; photographer Lee Miller and her future husband, Roland Penrose; poet Paul √Čluard and his wife, Nusch, and Pablo Picasso.

Numerous books have been written about these artists but we know little about Fidelin, whose fame peaked with a Man Ray fashion photo that appeared in Harper's Bazaar in 1937.

Playwright Rhiana Yazzie seeks to fill in the art historical picture. Her two-person play "Ady"--now premiering at the Playwrights' Center in Minneapolis--is a meditation on identity, culture and art. Its ambition is made clear by Jess West's simple, spare set, with empty picture frames suspended from the ceiling.

"Ady" has many promising features, including Yazzie's sometimes vividly poetic language. But the play is a work in progress, with a confusing structure and an unfocused story line.

It revolves around a Navajo Indian named Adrienne (played by Avia Bushyhead) who resembles and strongly identifies with Fidelin, who is called Ady in the play (Leah Nelson). Their lives intersect in this time-jumping work that uses a surrealist filter to deal with indigenous culture.

Yazzie, a Native American playwright living in the Twin Cities on a Jerome Fellowship, is thoughtful and smart. It's just that her ideas in "Ady" do not take dramatic flight.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Three Plays About Two Worlds and Native Plays and Other Stage Shows.

Below:  "Leah Nelson, left, and Avia Bushyhead in Ady. (Ann Marsden)

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