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The art of the drama

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published April 27. 2012 4:00AM
Photo submitted
Robert Gwin plays Henri Matisse and Sarah Pearlman is his model and assistant in Stonington Players’ “Large Red Interior.”
Anthony Maulucci creates a play about Matisse and Picasso

Writer Anthony S. Maulucci - who lived in Norwich and taught at Three Rivers Community College for years - now resides in an artists' community in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. But his stage work still has a home here.

Stonington Players are performing Maulucci's play "Large Red Interior," about Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

The title was drawn from a Matisse painting, and the drama itself delves into the artists' rivalry and their reluctant validation of each other's work. They tangle, too, over their feelings for Lydia, Matisse's assistant and model.

Over the years, Maulucci has developed quite a body of work. He has received the Rosengarten Award for Fiction (Harvard University) and the Jordan Davidson Poetry Prize (Barry College).

Most recently, he published his novel "Mary of Magdala," about Mary Magdalene, and he saw his one-act play, "Helen and Menelaus," presented at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

For Stonington Players, Christine Gunther is directing "Large Red Interior." The cast stars Bob Gwin as Matisse, Mark Hogan as Picasso, Sarah Pearlman as Lydia, and Dan Bergeron as Aaron, Lydia's fiancé.

Maulucci discussed "Large Red Interior" via email from his home in Mexico.

Discussing the inspiration for this play:

"Being a painter as well as a writer, I had studied Matisse's work and his life for some time and began to feel I understood him as an artist. Shortly after moving to San Miguel, I met a young woman who became my model for a while, and the relationship had certain parallels to Matisse and Lydia, his model and assistant from Russia. Working with my Mexican model gave me certain insights into the dynamics of the artist-model collaboration, which is what it truly is, a creative collaboration, if it is a good fit and if the chemistry is right."

On writing "Large Red Interior":

"Mark Twain said a good book writes itself. It's the same with writing a play, at least for me. But that doesn't mean it didn't involve a lot of hard work - even for Twain. I don't want to minimize that. I was writing this play from the heart, and as a result the muse stuck with me on a daily basis (as she frequently does for me when I am doing my best work). Muses don't do the writing for you, but it helps to have them standing by, looking on and smiling. When this story took possession of me (I know that sounds a bit loony, but that's how it felt), I was ready for it, having studied playwriting at Wesleyan, worked in theatre, written other full-length plays and many one-acts, directed student productions at Three Rivers College, and adapted major literary works for NPR and the CBC. ...

"It was the story of an aging artist with a great love for his craft and a platonic love for a young woman who was a catalyst of his creative renewal, who gave him hope when he had all but given up because he thought he had nothing more to say and discovered he had a new source of vitality - that was the story I felt compelled to tell because it is a universal story and it is also my story."

Characterizing the personalities of Matisse and Picasso:

"Matisse: philosophical, poetic, loved women, treated them with respect, worshiped their beauty, searching for spiritual serenity, experimenting with new intellectual concepts, balanced and rational in his approach to life and art

"Picasso: devouringly egomaniacal, used his power over women to destroy them, used their emotions to feed his art, continually pushing himself to find new forms of expression, more explosive, erratic and uncontrolled in his approach to life and art

"Both artists were very competitive, very strong-willed, very sure of their greatness, absolutely dedicated to the highest principles of art."

It's a challenge to write dialogue for larger-than-life characters like this:

"I had to fire up my imagination to a white heat. Very difficult for me to explain the process. Having some factual information and an actual chronology helped with the general framework. I did some research on the history, such as the meetings and exchange of paintings and rivalries between Matisse and Picasso, and the play has that authenticity of major events. I had the good fortune to work with a group of professional actors here who helped with the development of the script and gave the play its first public reading in March 2010. One of the actors is also an art historian from Paris with a Russian background, and she gave me some interesting details about both artists as well as Lydia's cultural background and female perspective. (Note: I am working with her on a one-woman show about neglected French Impressionist painter and former model for Renoir, Suzanne Valadon.)"

Maulucci is quite happy that Stonington Players is performing "Large Red Interior":

"The Stonington Players are a very dedicated group of theater people who, in my opinion, deserve much credit and recognition for taking on a complex play by a relatively unknown playwright. I will be forever grateful to them for giving my play its world premiere."

Matisse moved from Paris to Nice - to a warmer climate and a place rich in color and sunlight, as Maulucci notes. Maulucci likewise made a move to a warmer locale, from Connecticut to San Miguel de Allende:

"San Miguel is a very stimulating place for an artist to live. It's a small cosmopolitan city overflowing with creative energy, and it's got everything except an ocean. So in that sense it's not like Nice, maybe more like Montmartre in Paris of the 1920s, but what San Miguel lacks in coastal experiences it more than makes up for with majestic mountains and open vistas and colonial architecture. No place is perfect. I really do miss the shoreline, though, especially the beaches at Watch Hill."

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IF YOU GO

What: Stonington Players stage Anthony
Maulucci’s “Large Red Interior”

Where: Stonington Community Center, 28 Cutler St., Stonington

When: Opens tonight and runs through May 5; 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun.

Tickets: $10

Call: (860) 287-7393

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