he story of Chicago’s street murals isn’t exactly untold. Much of it has
been documented in the Reader, as a matter of fact, primarily
through articles by the estimable Jeff Huebner. But it’s seldom if ever
been mined as a subject for theatrical exploration. The nearest attempt, as
far as I know, was This Is Modern Art by Kevin Coval and Idris
Goodwin, which is about tagging-a genre that’s been known to serve as the
apprenticeship program for mural making as well as its outlaw wing, but
isn’t the thing itself.
That’s too bad, because there’s a lot of drama in and around our town’s
murals. So many of them were born from the militancy or utopianism of the
1960s. So many have been lost, taking history down with them in literal
chunks. And then there’s the question of co-optation, local governments
having figured out that murals can ratify the status quo as efficiently as
they attack it. Meanwhile the muralists themselves may live as precariously
as their handiwork.
Lauren “LL” Lundy has recognized the potential power of the subject. Blood Mural, which she “devised” and directed for MPAACT, gives us
a pair of muralists: the eminent Dr. E.J. Lockhart (Brittany Davis) and her
former standout student Marie Del Pizzo (Elaina Sanders). Though they’ve
fallen out of touch with each other in the two years since Marie graduated,
Lockhart has invited Marie to spend a weekend helping her paint a mural on
a wall in northeast Rogers Park.
The setup invites classic tensions: The clash of generational
sensibilities. Kill-the-teacher ambition. The longing for a legacy. We also
need to learn why Lockhart brought Marie in on this particular project, and
what it’s all got to do with that great title.
Sure enough, some of those elements find their way into the play, but in a
desperately convoluted and sketchy fashion. The hope for devised pieces is
that they’ll open up room for improvisational genius; the risk is that
they’ll subside into stasis, repetition, and cliche. The latter appears to
have happened here. The two artists bicker over Lockhart’s tendency to
treat Marie like an intern rather than a peer, but that fight never really
moves off first base. Neither do their discussions of issues from Picasso
to catcalls. We never get a handle on what either woman’s art is like, or
how they differ. And information that should be a starting point is held
back till the end as a kind of anti-revelation.
By far the worst failure of the show, though, is its waste of the
situation. The women never prime the wall they’re supposed to paint much
less paint it, and the little bit of futzing they do suggests a complete
ignorance of how murals are actually made. The real drama stands behind
them, nearly blank and all but ignored, from start to finish. v