Volume 73, Number 26 | Oct 29 -Nov 04, 2003

THEATER


TATJANA IN COLOR
By Julia Jordan
A Culture Project presentation
45 Bleecker Street 212) 307-4100


The Egon Schiele affair from the girl’s point of view

By JERRY TALLMER

Nicole Lowrance, left, as Antonia, and Kate Wetherhead, right, as Tatjana in ‘Tatjana in Color,’ at 45 Bleecker St.

Tatjana is 12-years-old, Antonia is 10-years-old, and Julia Jordan, who put them to paper, not as drawings or paintings but as characters in a play, is, well, “in my 30’s,” though she doesn’t look it. But she has to be, because this slim, self-contained, appealing young woman has been writing plays for a dozen or more years now, with four of them being produced in New York — at last! — in this very season of 2003-2004.

The one immediately at hand is “Tatjana in Color,” which is scheduled to open Oct. 30 under the direction of Will Pomerantz at the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street.

Tatjana Georgette Anna von Mossig is a charming, adventurous schoolgirl in the small town of Neulengbach, Austria, half-an-hour from Vienna, in 1912. Antonia is Tatjana’s candid, envious, caustic kid sister. They are the daughters of one of the town’s big shots, a retired naval captain. And Egon Schiele, a new resident of the town along with his mistress Valerie Neuzil (called “Wally”), is the brilliant painter who before his death at 28, in the worldwide influenza plague of 1919, will put naked angular female sex more hotly to canvas than anyone who ever lived before or since.

One of his subjects is Tatjana. The play sweeps us deliciously into her version (and kid sister Antonia’s woozy version) of events leading up to and beyond Schiele’s arrest in April 1912 for the rape of 12-year-old Tatjana, and the trial-by-magistrate that ended with Schiele serving 21 days in prison for corruption of the morals of a minor.

“Back when I was at Juilliard,” says Julia Jordan, “I had a friend who wanted to do a movie about Schiele. I thought it would be more interesting to do it from Tatjana’s point of view.”

“Schiele’s paintings of little girls blew my mind, just as Sally Mann’s photos of her own [naked] daughters do. The question arises: If it’s clearly art, does that mean it’s not necessarily pornography? Why should it be exclusive? Can’t it be both?

“There’s also the truth of the sexuality behind these paintings. If you’re an adult male and you have little girls pose for paintings, it’s clearly sexual. No way out. But if the adult respects the boundaries and there’s no contact, is it still a crime?”

From the play. Egon’s house. Tatjana is posing nude:

EGON: Tatjana, what happened to the still girl?

TATJANA: She was not well appreciated. So she has been sent away.

EGON: Conjure her back for me. Just five minutes more.

TATJANA: Only you can bring her back.

EGON: How?

TATJANA: Kiss her into existence.

[Tatjana closes her eyes and holds her mouth up for a kiss.]

EGON: I have been trying very hard to be good. Couldn’t you try as well? To be good and still?

[Tatjana opens her eyes.]

TATJANA: No one is looking.

[She closes her eyes. He traces her lips with his finger.]

EGON: Be still.

TATJANA: That was not a kiss.

EGON: That is a kiss to us.

{Egon traces her cheek and down her neck.]

EGON: And here is another . . .

[His finger slides across her collarbone. He pulls abruptly away before he touches her breast.]

EGON: . . . and that is all.

“These girls in this play,” says the young woman who wrote it, “are having a good time. It’s exciting to them.

“Tatjana was 12, only two years away from 14, which was the age of consent. In our society, that would be 16 years old. And in our society, a girl of 16 having relations with a man in his 20s is extremely common, while boys’ stories of relations with an older woman are often quite endearing.”

Ms. Jordan started the piece as a screenplay, “but then all the metaphor possibilities seemed to work better on stage.” It would be her second completed play. The first one, “Smoking Legend” (never yet produced but soon to have a reading at Urban Stages) was about three 15-year-old girls, who seven years earlier, had come upon the body of a slightly retarded girl who had fallen off a railroad bridge.

“There was a girl in my neighborhood who was that way,” says the Julia Jordan who was born in Chicago but, because of her father’s studying to be a psychiatrist and her mother being a professor of literature, grew up in London and various other places ending in St. Paul, Minnesota.

From Barnard, with her BA in English Literature, Ms. Jordan proceeded to the Neighborhood Playhouse, where she learned she was not good at, and did not want to be, an actress. “I was uncomfortable the whole time.”

It was there, however, that she stumbled into playwriting.

“They had this thing called Personal Monologue. I just made one up, the story of a boy who had a boil on his face. Everybody was crying. I told them all it was true. Some of my girlfriends wanted to use it for auditions; then everyone wanted to use it, so I had to write [and invent] more of them.”

Twelve-year-old Tatjana and 10-year-old Antonia are portrayed by actresses who are actually in their 20s, Tatjana by Kate Wetherhead, Antonia by Nicole Lowrance. “Because I have a bunch of plays with parts for young actresses, I have a kind of stable,” says the playwright.

Schiele is played by Glenn Fitzgerald, who will be remembered as the doorman in Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero.” Wally (pronounced Vally) is played by Rebecca Wisocky. Brad Bellamy has a number of supporting roles.

The three other Julia Jordan dramas of the current season are “St. Scarlet,” about three quarreling Minnesota sisters who have lost their mother, done this past June and July by WET (Women’s Expressive Theater) at the Ontological Theatre, St. Mark’s Place; “Summer of the Swans,” about an awkward adolescent girl, July and August as a TheaterWorks for kids at the Lortel; and, next April at Primary Stages, the equally youth-oriented “Boy.”

Youth-oriented, Tatjana and Antonia may be, but in a heading-hellbent-for-grownup-concupiscence way.

They’ve been waiting to get from Neulengbach to New York’s Off-Broadway for more than eight years now, and Julia Jordan has had to wait right along with them.
“The waiting has been . . . excruciating.” It also involved three years of writer’s block. “Cried a lot. Complained a lot.” Worked in restaurants; lived with her college-met boyfriend in a boat tethered at the 79th Street Basin.

The boyfriend is gone now. “He got the dog, I got the boat.” Julia Jordan still lives aboard it. Meanwhile, Tatjana and Antonia and Egon Schiele live in an open-ended run at the Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street.


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