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Rosalyn Drexler’s ‘Room 17’ and ‘Lobby’ recreates theater classics

By Santiago Montoya

Section: Arts

March 4, 2016

The Rose Art Museum had their spring opening exhibition on Friday, Feb. 26. The monographic exhibition called “Who Does She Think She Is?” showcases artist Rosalyn Drexler’s major paintings, collages, sculptures, photographic work, video documentation and award winning novels, plays and screenplays. In fact, she is famously known for penning the screenplay for “Rocky” (1976) under the pseudonym of Julia Sorel.

Drexler’s artistic interests are doubtlessly extensive and broad, as evidenced by the distinct media in which she expresses her artistic soul. As a matter of fact, her life itself, much like her work, is multifaceted; aside from being a painter, she was also a professional wrestler and a writer.

The exhibition, co-curated by Rose Curator-at-Large Katy Siegel and Curatorial Assistant Caitlin Julia Rubin, is highly influenced by New York’s artistic scene, of which Drexler was very much part during the 1960s. The majority of her paintings borrow imagery from movies, advertisements and newspapers of the 1960s. Her art belongs to an art movement that began in the mid-1950s in Britain and late the 1950s in the United States: Pop art.

The Pop art movement employs different visuals from popular culture, mostly advertisements and newspapers. Drexler’s work presents personal and social conflicts mixed with a political consciousness, which is rather rare in Pop art. There is also explicit vulgarity throughout most of her work, which shifts the exhibition’s point of view and interest to make it more compelling and interesting. This is not to say that obscenity attracts a major audience or is the sole reason why people would visit the Rose Art Museum this spring. Profanity is a universal language, the same way art can be, and that may be one of the reasons why Drexler utilized it in her work.

The opening did not just cut the red tape to inaugurate the exhibition. Their ambition was to do something greater, perhaps to bring in a bigger audience. It is the reason why the Theater Arts Department produced two plays, both written by Drexler.

The first production was titled “Room 17C,” a juxtaposition of Franz Kafka’s novella “Metamorphosis” and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The play is a feminist reworking of “Salesman,” which is Drexler’s way of writing a critical response about the earlier work. The play centers on Linda Loman, now a traveling saleswoman, in a squalid motel room with a cockroach. And the major question that audiences will ask themselves is whether Linda will give in and find the option of the road attractive, or if she will be pulled back by her husband at home.

The second production is “Lobby,” described as a tragicomedy, taking place in the lobby area of the Chelsea Hotel. The play follows author Oscar Wilde and Blanche DuBois, pulled from Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The protagonists struggle alongside artists, derelicts and junkies. At the same time, Wilde stoically suffers his decline of stardom and DuBois is delirious about the romance that it is only possible, in her world, outside of reality.

There is nothing wrong with the play itself or the players that were part of this production; nevertheless, both performances were frustratingly plain, dull and overall disengaging, mostly for one crucial factor.

The main factor for the play’s dullness was not setting up the space appropriately, as the set turned out to be more experimental and did not go as well as planned. “Room 17C” was performed to the right side of the “stage” (the main entrance of the Rose) while there were people sitting on both sides near the stairs. So the audience that was sitting to the left side of the stage had to stand up and walk to the other side in order to fully enjoy the performance. The same sketch occurred with the audience sitting on the right side just a few minutes after “Lobby” commenced on the left side. The audience realized soon enough that they were not able to appreciate much of what was happening on the opposite side of where they were sitting and had no choice to but to get up. In fact, a few people from the audience decided to leave earlier because of the inconvenient sitting arrangement.

Notwithstanding, the performance was only a mere piece of the countless of other works that the Rose has to offer about the wonderful life of the celebrated Obie and Emmy award winning artist that is Rosalyn Drexler.

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