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The Escape Artist

John Kelly's sumptuous new multi-media performance piece is inspired by the paintings of Caravaggio.

By New York City
John Kelly in The Esape Artist
(© Ves Pitts)
John Kelly in The Esape Artist
(© Ves Pitts)
The paintings of Caravaggio provide the inspiration for John Kelly's sumptuous new multi-media performance piece, The Escape Artist, at P.S. 122. Not only are reproductions of the Italian Renaissance artist's works projected on the three large screens that dominate the stage, but the gorgeously shot filmic imagery displayed also features various performers recreating scenes from some of Caravaggio's most famous paintings.

In the live portion of the performance, Kelly portrays a theater artist who was injured while rehearsing a trapeze technique that he hoped to incorporate into his latest show. This artist may or may not be Kelly himself, although his name does appear on some of the medical documents that are projected onto the screens, and at one point during the performance, he even refers to himself as "John."

But regardless of the autobiographical veracity of the details contained in the show, what is of primary importance is the contemplative mood that Kelly creates as the injured man endures x-rays, an MRI, a CAT Scan, and countless hours of waiting in the hospital to learn the extent of the damage to his body. And as his mind wanders, the imagery of Caravaggio keeps seeping into his consciousness.

Kelly spends most of the show lying down on a raised rectangular platform that stands in for a hospital gurney. A camera is pointed directly at him, so that we often witness an aerial view of his face. And it is from this position that he sings the majority of the songs that are threaded throughout his spoken narrative.

In a couple of the early numbers, the performer's voice cracks as he moves from his lower register to his falsetto, but his vocal work becomes stronger as the show goes on. The countertenor is particularly impressive in a cover of the operatic "Oblivion Soave," although the most interesting musical work is found within his original material, much of it co-written with composer Carol Lipnik.

A highlight is the song, "Cara Viaggio," in which the haunting melody is accompanied by Kelly's ethereal vocals and stunning projections (video creation/design concept is by Kelly, with video design credited to Jeff Morey) that beautifully explore the homoeroticism within Caravaggio's works. "I want to seduce / I need to offend / I crave to give form / And I long to lose control," sings Kelly, expressing the passion of an artist at the peak of his creative powers.

That description certainly applies to John Kelly, whose work here is just one more brilliant example of the creative genius that he has demonstrated over the last several decades.


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