In her seminal essay "Shakespeare's Sister," Virginia Woolf muses on what would have happened to a woman of the bard's genius living in his day and concludes she would never have had the opportunity to develop her talent. Given the incredible plays we have witnessed in the last few years by female playwrights, including Waiting to Be Invited and Wit, Woolf's point about sexism holding women back is well taken, for when it is removed as a barrier a flowering follows.
In an effort to bolster the fortunes of women in the arts, Heidi Rose Robbins and Elizabeth Rainer, friends from their days in the graduate theatre program at SMU, have written a one woman show, Baring Fruit, which captures the life of Paula Modersohn-Becker, a late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century German expressionist painter.
Who is Modersohn-Becker? As it turns out, she is a pioneer in a field where women were routinely denied careers. Witness what happened to some of the great female impressionists included in last year's show at the Denver Art Museum—Marie Brachmond, for example, whose husband asked her to stop painting. Modersohn-Becker, however, through her own willfulness, the luck of being born into a family who could afford to pay for her training and studies, and the encouragement of fellow artists such as Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, and her husband, Otto Modersohn, packed a lot of fine work into a brief life.
Despite this encouragement however, Modersohn-Becker journeyed to Paris alone in pursuit of her art, struggling to remain independent while at the same time being supported by her husband and badgered by her mother to return home and raise a family.
Rainer, who plays the role of Modersohn-Becker, is spellbinding, carrying us through the joys and sorrows of the artist's compelling life. Her heart-gripping performance, coupled with the creative use of slides accompanied by excellent voice-over work and sound design, brings alive a cast of characters as real as if they were on stage. Robbins' direction takes full advantage of Rainer's dynamic range of expression and a flexible set that supports a multitude of locations.
Baring Fruit, the portrait of an artist as a woman caught between her painting and her family, runs through April 21st at the Nomad Theatre in Boulder. 303-774-4037.