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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
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