Some of you may remember "Dead Bob," the barker for our Blackwood Mausoleum attraction last Halloween. He's none other than local legend Bob Diven - comedian, musician, artist, and actor. And now he's a playwright and an even more accomplished actor.
Tonight, we went and saw his one-man show John Singer Sargent: Painting Madame X at the newly-renovated Rio Grande theater in downtown Las Cruces. What a great show! Bob wrote and performed the play, and it was directed by another local legend, Academy Award Nominee and Tony Award winner (for Children of a Lesser God) Mark Medoff.
Bob's masterful performance gives you a compelling window into the very private life of John Singer Sargent, a victorian-era painter whose rising status in French painting circles was cut short by an unwarranted scandal about an enigmatic painting he submitted to the Salon de Paris in 1884, and the terrible choice he had to make in response to it. Filled with wry humor and subdued emotion, the play examines the unexpected regrets that can affect us for the rest of our lives if we cease, even for a moment, to be true to ourselves.
I particularly liked that during the course of the play, Sargent actually works on sketches for a mural. As the story of Sargent's life unfolds, so does the mural behind him start to flesh out in form, and, just as the mural remains largely unfinished at the end of the show, you feel like you have learned much about the real Sargent, but that there remains great depth in the man that remains a mystery. Bob is a talented painter and sketcher, and as such, he brings a genuine presence of a painter to the performance, both overtly through the sketches he makes while speaking in character, and implicitly as the author and actor by bringing the sensibilities of an experienced painter to the screenplay and delivery. The result is a very compelling and thought-provoking show, and I'm very glad I had a chance to see it.
And you can see his show too. Bob is looking to tour Painting Madame X around the state and beyond, and if you know of a venue that could feature it - museums, schools, theaters, etc. - be sure to check out the Painting Madame X web site for details. If you are in New Mexico and your organization qualifies, the New Mexico Humanities Council will subsidize the cost of bringing Bob to perform for you.