featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review, 9-26: 'Paradise' Found
Vintage Kelly on a Classic Film

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2002 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- John Kelly dipped his toe into the main stream in "The Paradise Project," seen at The Kitchen this past Friday. Rather, he led the production to the big stream and remained on the safe experimental shore while parts of the show continued to flow by him. This is a good thing, condemning him though it might to creating such intimately scaled projects. On the other hand, the show had two personalities, bouncing between downtown performance and Broadway, never completely reconciling the two worlds.

Which is not to say that Kelly has not faced the masses -- he performed in the cast of Broadway's James Joyce's "The Dead," to critical praise. He is a man of so many talents -- chief among them acting, dancing, singing, art, theater -- that it is an embarrassment of riches, and that in part may be why he eludes recognition as one of the best in any of those fields. He simply switches to another genre at will, or when the pace slows, never sitting in one place very long.

"The Paradise Project," delayed for months after Kelly suffered broken vertebrae while rehearsing a since-deleted trapeze sequence, is based on the classic 1945 film, "Children of Paradise." To music by Radiohead (which sounded strangely comfortable in the theater), we meet Kelly, who portrays a present-day, frustrated painter approaching an exhibition for which he hasn't yet produced the work. After reluctantly accompanying a friend to see the vintage film, he becomes consumed with it, alternately inhabiting the main character, Baptiste, and his own fraying life.

While no true dance sequences emerged, movement played a vital role. When Kelly and his friend (played by "Sweet Smell of Success"'s Kelli O'Hara) watched the film, they sat facing us, reacting to the film's soundtrack. Though it sounds simple, it was a skillful display of sustained acting, where subtle facial shifts were integral to the scene's success. This exemplified the double-edged knife that faces Kelly: the most compelling physical cues are as subtle as an arched brow.

Kelly swam in the air like a turtle lying on its shell, suspended in time and space. He moonwalked in front of dual screens with projections. Most affectingly, as Baptiste, when faced with the choice between Garance, his romantic obsession, and his wife and child, he winced ever so slightly, consciously giving in to his worst desires but only on a reflexive, physical level. His modern character was, unfortunately, pathetically egocentric -- the kind of friend who regrettably becomes a burden after a while.

O'Hara is a belter with few peers, and she added luster, if also a note of disarming normality, to the proceedings. Wendy Hill moved through poses to portray a marble statue; when she finally sang in a duet with Kelly, she displayed her impressive operatic resume, overshadowing Kelly's falsetto. Walter Hudson made a haunting movie theater manager, his thick mutterings echoed by what seemed to be mouthed lines from "Children of Paradise." As a harlequin, he also rollerbladed while singing a catchy tune about self-love. Yet the songs (by Michael Torke, with lyrics by Mark Campbell) sung by these supporting performers seemed to belong on Broadway, and sat uncomfortably astride the rest of the show.

The theater work had a filmic quality, and the projected snippets of film were used to clever effect, particularly the final scene in which Kelly slipped through a slit in the screen which showed Garance's visage. And if Kelly hasn't yet performed on film, it would be interesting to see him on the silver screen, where he could be shot close-up as well as from afar.

"The Paradise Project" continues through Sunday at The Kitchen, with lighting by Stan Pressner, costumes by Donna Zakowska, and sound by Tim Schellenbaum. It was produced by Alyce Dissette.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home