Review: The Museum of Modern Love – Seymour Centre (NSW)

Review by Justin Clarke

Written by Tom Holloway, based on the novel by Heather Rose, Directed by Tim Jones

Adapted from Heather Rose’s Stellar Prize-Winning novel, The Museum of Modern Love examines human connection through the magnifying glass of art in its many forms. At the heart of Rose’s (and now playwright Tom Holloway’s) work is the performance art piece The Artist is Present, by Marina Abramović.

Held over the course of 75 days at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Abramović sat in a chair and allowed strangers to join her one by one. As they sat, strangers were only allowed to stare, with no speaking or touching. The effect on these participants was varied, from bursts of laughter to outbursts of tears. Over the course of the 75 days, Abramović sat with 1,545 people.

Director, Tim Jones, plays freely with the omnipresent Abramović throughout TMOML with creative replacements. A looming, ever-changing screen of faces in slow motion hangs over the back wall of the stage to simulate the hundreds of people Marina sat with. On the floor, a lit square of dim white light separates the world of the production and the actors dropping the skins they inhabit. The actors watch the piece, as we, the audience, are watching the piece, all the while representing the spectators that viewed Abramović’s performance art.

In a pandemic-induced world where we are forced to be isolated more than we’ve ever been, TMOML makes us rethink what it means to connect with one another in the simplest way.

This art piece plays as a backdrop to the journey of Julian Garner’s Arky Levin, a New York film composer struggling to live and work in the face of being denied seeing his slowly dying wife, Lydia (Tara Morice). Arky searches for meaning in Lydia’s decision to legally have him barred from her hospital bed by revisiting Abramović’s work over and over again.

Much of the story takes place in the MOMA,  where we overhear conversations  on the boundaries, importance, relevance, adaptability, and worth of art. Abramović feels as if she takes centre stage in this production, with Arky’s story merely a subplot. Some of the most engaging conversations come from the characters discussing Abramović’s controversial art works and the quintessence of meaning in what she creates.

As Arky, Julian Garner harnesses the struggling artist superbly. Garner brings an erratic nature to Arky and that brings nuance to his battle between accepting his wife’s decision and his devotion to her.

Harriet Gordon-Anderson brings a grounded performance as the daughter, Alice. Deemed to be unfortunately “normal” by her parents (choosing the career of a doctor instead of a creative composer) Alice grapples with carrying out her mother’s request and her father’s disillusionment.

In the elusive role of Lydia, Tara Morice’s character is used as an almost symbolic representation of Abramović herself. Jone’s has cleverly dug out the underlying connection between Arky’s obsession with Abramović’s work and his fear of looking into the eyes of his dying wife.

The ensemble aptly raise the artistic questions surrounding Arky’s struggles. Sophie Gregg’s Jane floats to find a connection worthy enough of filling the void of her late husband. Jennifer Rani’s Healayas throws herself into artistic deconstruction to cope with the slow loss of her best friend. Aileen Huynh as Brittika brings a comedic turn as the Abramović obsessed PhD student. Glenn Hazeldine’s dismissive Arnold boasts a powerful voice to battle Healayas in discussions of Abramović’s worth. Justin Amankwah fills out the stage with multiple roles, who is sometimes lost amidst the presence of his fellow performers.

The pacing of MOML drags heavily. Despite some rousingly engaging conversations fit for an artist’s tastebuds, those of us who aren’t philosophers or who have dabbled in the creative world may struggle to keep up. This production may not be as resonant as its source material was for so many.

In a pandemic-induced world where we are forced to be isolated more than we’ve ever been, TMOML makes us rethink what it means to connect with one another in the simplest way. Despite the heavy dialogue and slow pacing, The Museum of Modern Love will position you to address your own viewpoints on art and its resonance in the world.

Reviewer Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Photos by Ten Alphas

The Museum of Modern Love plays as part of the 2022 Sydney Festival at the Seymour Centre until Sunday 30th January. Full details and tickets can be found here.

THEATRE THOUGHTS PODCAST – You can also listen to our full conversation with Julian Garner about this production on our podcast by following this link.

DESIGNER Stephen Curtis

Justin Amankwah, Julian Garner, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Sophie Gregg, Glenn Hazeldine, Aileen Huynh, Tara Morice & Jennifer Rani

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