The late pop artist Robert Rauschenberg liked to delve into mixed media. He’d pick up disparate items as he walked around New York City, find ways to combine them, and add paint. The results placed him alongside Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns in the pantheon of 20th Century artists.
Director Bart DeLorenzo says New York playwright Chuck Mee approached his work “bobrauschenbergamerica” in the same way the artist dealt with found objects.
"Chuck grabs his material everywhere – Internet, TV – but he loves the way people express themselves and the way he uses text is very much the same way Rauschenberg deals with objects," said DeLorenzo.
DeLorenzo directs Mee’s play at Inside the Ford Theatre in Hollywood. Looking through the dozens of scenes in the script, I asked him how many times he had to read it before it sank in.
"A bunch. A bunch," laughed DeLorenzo. "I read it and let it sit in me. And then it came to me like a voice from above."
For audiences, the experience of seeing this play may seem like viewing pop art – kind of disjointed.
"I don’t think it helps to ponder too much while you’re experiencing it, but to let it wash over you and let yourself be transformed by the experience and just enjoy the ride, and then, when it’s over, what sits in you may have some meaning for you in your life. I like to figure it out for myself later."
DeLorenzo said playwright Chuck Mee wrote this work as an homage to Rauschenberg – and to the second half of the 20th century.
"It’s not coincidental, it’s not accidental, the artist is drawn to certain things and the artist combines them, the sensibility within the artist will give them a kind of coherence, which will be an artistic principle in itself."
The play includes musical numbers, a parade and a giant martini-powered slip 'n slide. It alludes to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, and the changing role of women in society.
"It’s a very American play – but it definitely is trying to cover that period of time," said DeLorenzo. "Chuck said to me, the characters in the play are as if you got into a car somewhere around Pennsylvania, and you drove west, and dipped a little bit south, these are the people you would meet on your journey, and in a way, maybe the characters are archetypes of the late 20th century."
bobrauschenbergamerica opens Saturday at Inside the Ford Theatre in Hollywood.