Here are some fun facts you might glean from a new Seattle theater piece about the Spanish artist Salvador Dalí, if you didn’t already know them.
A) Dalí was a seminal surrealist, with a flair for self-promotional outrageousness. B) He had a thing for waxed black mustaches and images of eggs. C) He died under somewhat enigmatic circumstances — but not suspicious enough to sustain the two-hour play now premiering at Theatre Off Jackson.
That would be “The Final Tribunal into the Mysterious Death of Mister Senor Salvador Dali” by Brendan Healy.
Healy and Pony World Theatre were also responsible for “Suffering, Inc.,” an earlier, much superior theater piece that inventively and refreshingly raided half a dozen Chekhov plays to concoct a nightmare of modern office-worker angst and hilarity.
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For that more cohesive project, the company dipped into a canon’s worth of dialogue and characterizations by a theatrical master.
This new piece turns to Dalí’s visual oeuvre, his biography, his aesthetic theories, in search of materials for a stage collage. But those elements are not transformed and coalesced enough to reveal much more than the obvious about Dalí — and even less about surrealism, a fascinating early 20th-century art movement that we are told here “changed the world,” though we’re not shown why or how.
Rather, we get a lengthy, choppy procession of short scenes and bits — some rather dry historical narration, an impish lecture from a slapdash art historian, a smattering of homemade visual effects. And a half-boiled detective investigation into whether Dalí was murdered, died of natural causes or committed suicide.
The question doesn’t have much dramatic urgency, given the circumstances of Dalí’s demise in his mid-80s. And while the show underscores the artist’s personal eccentricities and showmanship, it all but ignores the drama of the surrealist movement itself.
The post-World War I politics of surrealism, its radical shift away from artistic realism into symbolism and the unconscious world of dreams and fantasies (a realm of discovery opened up by Sigmund Freud) and Dalí’s eventual “expulsion” from the group — this fecund material goes unmentioned or barely grazed.
The show offers some verbal and visual allusions to Dalí’s artwork, but one must go into the lobby to get a good look at the strange, Gothic, often erotically-charged interior landscapes he painted. Maybe there is a more dynamic way to theatricalize aspects of Dalí’s offbeat life and unique work. Despite all best intentions, Healy and his troupe have not found it.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org