Mimesis, inspiration, and authenticity are notions constantly scrutinized and thrown into tension when the artistic process is endeavored upon. When the artistic process grows intertwined in romantic desire and anxieties and self-deprecations that are perpetuated by a capitalistic, competitive culture, mimesis, inspiration, and authenticity are exploded—so to speak. The artistic spirit and the sense of self-collapse into each other in an often violent, messy way, exposing the artist and the individual on a visceral level as not what either (the artist or the art) purported to be. The recent Non State Actors production, Milo de Venus (written by fellow PGH in the Round contributor Brian Pope), posits a scenario in which these phenomena are examined in a thoroughly fraught scenario that is even further intensified by the complications of association and disassociation inherent to our hyper-mediated culture (think the veneered intimacy of “knowing” someone on Tinder, Grindr, Facebook, etc.). While relying a bit too heavily on certain tropes at times, the end result is a play which dynamically (and often hilariously) explores the unanticipated deconstruction and reifying of self and art that comes from unconventional artistic pursuits.
Milo de Venus is a show framed, no pun intended, simply enough—three pointedly unique aspiring (and not-so-aspiring) artists, Venus (Jalina K McClarin), George (Mike Zolovich), and Dot (Hazel Leroy), sign up for a two-week intensive drawing class with esteemed, eccentric artist Jules (Joanna Getting), to vie for a chance at creating the most provocative piece of art that will earn a place in her studio. The three personalities, already diametrically opposed in their yearnings and principles—exquisitely particular George is Venus’ most rabid fan; Jules is seeking to finally get her “big break” as an artist; curmudgeonly retiree Dot is attempting to show the triviality of producing art—are thrown into even more striking opposition by the nature of the competition and the question of whether or not legitimate art can be generated under the constraints of such a competition. To further exacerbate the tensions of the environment, Venus, whose phone is electrified with an inundation of Tindr notifications when we first meet the trio of artists, unceremoniously discovers that the man she has been interacting with consistently on Tindr for the past few weeks is the model for the class.
Mimesis, inspiration, and authenticity are dramatically called into question, as both the aspiring artists, acclaimed artist, and artistic muse destabilize and refortify themselves throughout the course of the weeks’ immersion. Pope deftly introduces the use of and dependency upon social media, especially apps like Tindr, and the artifice of identity these apps create as a complication to art. At one point after their initial, outrageously uncomfortable first interaction, Milo (Max Reusing) remarks upon the profile of Venus he has crafted in his mind and what he believes her interests and idiosyncrasies must be given his invasive investigation of all of her publicly viewable social media accounts. Venus is flabbergasted, to which Milo responds by stating she allowed the information to be public and then provides his phone so she may reciprocally pry through his personal information.
The disintegration of actual self through the faux-intimacy and faux-informativeness of social media, and how that disintegration of self consequently influences and impedes (or, sometimes, galvanizes) the artistic process. Venus allows her fear of closeness to another human (or what she believes to be fear) to alter how she interacts with other humans (i.e. dating apps) and thusly impact her art; George cannot escape his conception of self as an artist defined through his enraptured worship of another artist (Jules), which mars his vision and disallows him to see the reality of the individual he idolizes; Dot sardonically sees art as a frivolous endeavor, but her scornfulness and self-castigations are rooted in the deep disappointment felt by her family decades ago; Jules has lost her vision through the ruthlessness of a capitalistic world and the hyper mediation around her. Milo, fascinatingly, works as a purposeful inverse of the female muse to be a fulcrum for the artists’ unanticipated and complex processes of epiphanies and self-discoveries that culminate in an emotional final interaction.
Pope does an exceptional job at allowing each character—and, in turn, each actor, who all do astronomical work at portraying the characters with organic vibrancy—to reach a denouement in which their fraught, artificial selves are shattered and signs of regrowth can be seen. While the caricatured nature of some of the characters can at times be a bit heavy-handed, the actors, particularly Leroy and Zolovich, conveyed the characters’ emotional and artistic journeys with phenomenal balance and tenderness. Milo de Venus is a ribald and slyly insightful look at looking, art, and the sense of self that portends great promise for all involved.
Milo de Venus runs at the Glitter Box through April 21. For tickets and more information click here.
Photos by Amy Wooler
Categories: Archived Reviews