PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST
A Play
(12 Pages in Typescript)
 
 
 

Portrait of an Artist was first performed on November 10, 1999, in the Pulse Theatre / Opal Series, New York City. It was designed and directed by Gina Norman.

----------Roy:----------------.-----Christian Casper
----------Alex:---------------------Walter Brandes
----------He:-----------------------Zachary Worthington
----------She:----------------------Britta Jepsen

 
 
 
 
 
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST
 
 
--------------------------------The Cast:

----------ROY:
----------ALEX:-----two young painters

----------HE:----.----a well-heeled middle-aged couple,
----------SHE:--—--nicely dressed, she with a purse

 
 
 
-------------------------------- The Scene:

An outdoor art show: paintings mounted on a fence or movable panels, or only an abstract arrangement of frames or geometrical shapes. Alex is stage left, seated in front of his work on a folding stool, with a small gym bag at his feet. Roy is stage right, back to the audience (and his rickety chair), adjusting his display to fill some empty spots. At far right, mounted on a post or hanging on the fence, a sign says:

ART SHOW CONTINUES


At several points during the play, Roy and Alex address art-show visitors who need not be really and visibly present as they pass stage right to stage left.

The lights, which are intense, go on all at once: blink.

Alex has a gun to his head.


 


---------------ROY:

(turning around, startled)


Alex! Alex—! Put that thing down! What the—! What the hell are you doing!


(Alex stares straight ahead, smiles thoughtfully)


Com'on, man! Put that thing down! You're scaring me!


(Still absorbed in his thoughts, Alex slowly lowers the gun, bends to his side, and places it in the gym bag.)


Where in the hell did you get that thing!


---------------ALEX:

I bought it for my wife.


---------------ROY:

Your wife!


---------------ALEX:

Yeah, Someone tried to rape her last week.


---------------ROY:

No!


---------------ALEX:

Damn right. Crawled up the fire escape to the back bedroom. I was listening to music in the living room—1 had my headphones on so Jeannie could sleep— (nervously, as though reliving it) When I heard her screaming and ran to the rear of the apartment, the guy darted back out the window.


---------------ROY:

Holy shit! Did you call the police?


---------------ALEX:

Of course. They came about half an hour later and tried to get fingerprints, but they couldn't. Jeannie said the guy was wearing gloves. (shaking as he remembers it) It was comforting at first having police around, but after an hour they were only making both of us more nervous; it was all I could do to get them out of there. Then it took me the rest of the night to get Jeannie calmed down. She was so frightened she was trembling.


---------------ROY:

Jeez, I can imagine. That's awful!


(after solicitous pause, pointing to gym bag)


Do you have a license for that thing?


---------------ALEX:

Of course I do. Now I'm going to have to teach Jeannie how to fire it.


(Roy goes over to the gym bag, reaches in for the gun; with a frenzied motion Alex grabs it out of his hand, pushes him away. Approaching visitors require Roy to return to his exhibit.)


---------------ROY:

(casually) Hello. Yes, please. Have a look around. (pause) I'm Roy, (motioning to his friend) this is Alex.


---------------ALEX:

(as visitors eventually pass to his exhibit)


This is my work. Feel free to comment or ask questions.


(pause, hint of resentment) No. I graduated from art school about five years ago. (pause) Well, thanks for stopping by.


(after following departing visitors with his eyes; to Roy)


Nobody likes my work. Nobody will ever like my work. (pause) I might as well shoot myself. I might as well not be here at all.


---------------ROY:

Oh come on, Alex. Of course you should. These just aren't particularly good times for artists.     &People are worried about the economy, &and they don't have  &a lot of money to spend.


(Alex turns and defiantly begins taking his paintings down.)


But you'll sell something one of these days, I know you will! Anyway, you can't wait for the public's approval. You have to let the work carry you.


(Roy turns back, addresses new visitors.)


---------------ROY:

(casually) Yes, this group is mine. Feel free to look around. (pause) Thank you.


---------------ALEX:

(as visitors pass to his exhibit)


Hi. Sure, sure. Have a look. (facing forward, pointing) Yes, this barn, in the snow. It's a piece I'm really proud of. (pause, quoting) "It would look good in a hotel lobby?" What the hell do you mean by that!


(Roy, overhearing, extends arms in a gesture of placation. Alex follows departing visitors with his eyes; after they have left)


Jerks.


---------------ROY:

(trying, as Alex pouts) Oh hell, Alex, if I can sell two paintings in an afternoon, so can you. Your work is terrific. (vaguely joshing) Dammit, sometimes I think it's better than mine.


---------------ALEX:

Three.


---------------ROY:

What?


---------------ALEX:

You've sold three paintings.


---------------ROY:

Two, three? What's the difference? It's not gonna make me a millionaire.


---------------ALEX:

Yeah, but you sold six last month.


---------------ROY:

(getting defensive)


That's only because I got lucky. My gallery gave me a show.


---------------ALEX:

(shouting) I don't have a gallery!


---------------ROY:

(still trying) But you will, one of these days, I know you will! Really, I love your work! You've got the goods! You've got terrific vision!


---------------ALEX:

Yeah. Such terrific vision that I managed to be at the tail end of the show. By the time people get here—to Siberia— their eyes are tired and they've already spent any money they're going to spend. (pause) I can't even get lucky in the way I pick a number. I can't even get lucky in my spot.


---------------ROY:

(grabbing Alex, putting his hand on his shoulder, turning him toward the audience, pointing)


Look at what you've created. Just look at this. It's the work, man, I keep tellin' you. The important thing is the work.


(thoughtful pause; returning to his exhibit; to imaginary visitors; hint of hopefulness)


Have a look. Maybe you'll find something you like.


(eventually sits down)


---------------ALEX:

(as he replaces the paintings he has taken down, pausing to look over shoulder at invisible visitors)


Kindly bear with me. I'll have these back up in a minute.




The Well-Heeled Couple enter right.



---------------SHE:

(turning and calling back to another artist offstage)


We will, we sure will! Thanks for being so accommodating! We'll be back—promise! But as long as we're here we might as well look at the last few things!


(They move part-way to Roy's exhibit and facing downstage, speak quietly to one another. They are very pleased with themselves, very amused. The husband actually slaps his hand over his mouth to suppress his laughter. Regaining their composure, they turn around and scrutinize Roy's work.)


---------------SHE:

Golly, all your paintings are lovely! (couple faces stage left) But we're especially taken with this one here, this portrait, (pointing) this woman in the red dress. Aren't we honey?


(Roy gets up, assumes a salesman's demeanor)


---------------SHE:

Yes, it's quite lovely.


---------------HE:

But, well, there's just one thing. My wife and I are building a new house and there's going to be a lot of blue in the bedroom. Is there any chance, I mean, if it's not asking too much, that you would change the woman's dress. . .to blue?


---------------ROY:

(startled) You mean, repaint the painting?


---------------HE:

Oh, not the whole painting. You wouldn't have to repaint the whole painting.


---------------SHE:

No, we wouldn't ask you to do that. We just think it's a picture we could live happily with in our new bedroom, if only there were more blue in it.


---------------ROY:

(stares at them incredulously, turns back to the painting)


Well, it's a bit unorthodox. I've never been asked to repaint a painting before. (considering) But well, sure. I guess I could do it.


---------------SHE:

Oh, that's wonderful! Isn't it, honey!


---------------HE:

It sure is!


---------------SHE:

Aren't you a nice young man to accommodate our little whim!


---------------ROY:

I don't know whether it's a question of being nice. Like everyone else, I do have bills to pay.


---------------SHE:

(glancing at Alex) Oh, here's one more artist. We should look at his things too, just so we can say we've seen everything in the show. There are just so many beautiful things for sale today!


(Deflated, Roy moves to, and adjusts his paintings. The Well-Heeled Couple pass to Alex's exhibit.)


---------------HE:

Gosh, this is wonderful work too! Isn't it honey!


---------------SHE:

Indeed it is!


---------------HE:

(to Alex, pointing toward audience)


I think my favorite is this painting on the left, this landscape.


---------------ALEX:

Thank you. I painted that outside. In the snow.


---------------SHE:

You painted it. . .outside?


---------------ALEX:

(proud of the fact) Yes.


---------------HE:

Well, no wonder the light's so subtle! I don't see how you could possibly have gotten such beautiful effects if you'd painted it indoors!


---------------ALEX:

(pleased) We do what we have to do.


---------------HE:

But tell me something. My wife and I are building a new house, and there's going to be a lot of blue in the bedroom. Is there any chance that you would put some more blue in the painting? Perhaps change the color of the barn roof, there, (points) from brown to blue?


---------------ALEX:

(flabbergasted; looks first at them, then at the painting)


Repaint the barn roof? No. I'm sorry. I couldn't do that.


---------------HE:

(pressing) You're sure you couldn't?


---------------ALEX:

No! It would completely ruin the painting! Alter the composition, the tonal balance! I don't change my paintings just because somebody'd like to see another form or shape or color in them! No real artist would!


---------------HE:

You're sure? You're absolutely sure?


---------------ALEX:

Hell yes, I'm sure! What the hell do you take me for? The way I see the world is the way I see the world! If you want a painting that meets your personal specifications as to form and color, then why don't you just paint it!


---------------HE:

Well, that's fantastic!


---------------SHE:

It sure is! Fantastic!


---------------ALEX:

(confused, looking from one to the other)


What's fantastic?


---------------HE:

Do you realize, young man, you're the first artist in this entire show who's refused to change a painting for us? Everyone else, in order to sell us a painting, has agreed—


---------------SHE:

(chiming in) Sometimes reluctantly—


---------------HE:

To change his painting for us!


---------------SHE:

It was just unbelievable!


---------------HE:

But you're the only painter here with any real integrity!


---------------SHE:

Any artistic standards!


---------------HE:

So what we're going to do is. . .I mean, you ought to be rewarded for adhering to your principles. . .and you are going to be rewarded. We're going to buy this painting!


---------------ALEX:

(taken aback) You are?


---------------HE:

Yes. It's encouraging finally to meet someone who refuses to sell his soul for—


---------------SHE:

Who puts his pride in his work above—


---------------HE:

Money—


---------------SHE:

Do-si-dough—


---------------HE:

Filthy lucre.


---------------SHE:

(pause) So how much is the painting? How much do we owe you?


---------------ALEX:

(soberly) Well, this one is six hundred dollars.


---------------HE:

That's certainly reasonable!


---------------SHE:

I should say so. And you deserve every penny of it. Really, you do.


---------------HE:

I hope this isn't a problem for you: Can we give you a check?


---------------ALEX:

(trying to be businesslike, considering the matter of identification, but succumbing to the desire for a sale)


Sure. A check would be fine. No problem.


---------------HE:

(turning to his wife) Honey, do you have the checkbook?


---------------SHE:

(opening, and looking into her purse)


Uh-oh. I think we left it in the car.


---------------HE:

Oh damn, that's right. Well, hang on a minute, young man. I'll go and get it. Honey, you stay here.


---------------SHE:

Oh no, I'll come with you. (to Alex as they depart) But we'll be back. Rest assured, we will be back!


(They exit left and Alex, flushed, sits down on his stool.)


---------------ALEX:

(to Roy) Can you believe it? I finally sold a painting!


(silence; Roy stares straight ahead)


I said. I finally sold a painting.


---------------ROY:

Yeah, congratulations. That's terrific.


---------------ALEX:

You don't seem very pleased. I thought you said you liked my work.


---------------ROY:

(looking straight ahead, pained)


But it's not about your work.


---------------ALEX:

Whaddaya mean, it's not about my work? It's a painting, isn't it? And they're going to buy it!


---------------ROY:

Yeah, but it's not. . .the painting they're buying. It's something else.


---------------ALEX:

Something else! What?


---------------ROY:

(swinging around to confront him)


They're buying you, Alex! They're buying your refusal to budge! Your refusal to play their silly-ass game!


(Alex looks to the side, confused)


They're buying all the fun they had putting us to the test!


(sourly)


Hell, it's not even one of your best paintings.


---------------ALEX:

But—but I thought you said you liked my work!


---------------ROY:

(leading Alex to the barn painting, looking downstage at it)


It's okay, sure. It's good enough. But if you ask me, you need to concentrate more on line. Frankly, and I'm speaking as a fellow craftsman now—one artist to another—I don't see what's so subtle about the light in this painting. It's a barn. And snow. And the sun is going down. And the snow is tinged with violet. What's the big deal? Anyway, those idiots probably couldn't tell a good painting from a bad one! They're just decorating the bedroom in their new house. Don't you see, Alex? Don't you see what they did to you? This isn't about art, it's about power! They're buying their own egos! They're buying. . .themselves!


(Roy turns about, and goes and busies himself with his paintings.)


(Alex stares downstage with a look of shocked incredulity, eventually sinks back onto his stool. In a smooth swift motion he leans to his side, removes the gun from the gym bag, points it straight u p , then lowers it slowly to the side of his head; freeze.)


---------------ROY:

(turning around, realizing what is happening)


Alex!



count three





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