Regardless of my opinion about what I see, it’s not hard for me to connect with visual art. It’s a language I’ve always understood. Yet theatre is more of a challenge, and theatricality, the over-exaggerated gestures and dialogue, often leave me unimpressed. Call me a Philistine if you wish, but often I just don’t get it. It’s Entertainment versus Art, and Art seldom has a chance because of the sheer cost of getting a production to the stage.

However, with a two-person cast, sublime acting and direction, and marvelous, spare sets by Christine Jones, I was treated to one of those rarest of rare experiences — the Off-Broadway Show as a work of art.

“The Occupant,” a post-mortem interview-style play by Edward Albee on the life of Louise Nevelson (a friend of the artist for over two decades), hands the two actors, Mercedes Ruehl and Larry Bryggman, tremendous material with which to work. And no doubt they worked their tails off, in concert with director Pam MacKinnon. The result is a show that soars. With an intensity of character portrayal that simply must be experienced, Ruehl delivers all the complexities of an artist’s journey: the sacrifices, the endurance, the selfishness, the self-possession, the outrageousness, the determination, the risks, the alienation, the calculation, the impulsiveness, and all the contradictions and magnificence of a very individual and creative path.

I’ve always respected Louise Nevelson the artist as a trailblazer of sorts, and her work for its integrity and powerful presence. Although I’ve been aware of both since I was young, truthfully, neither has figured at the forefront of my thoughts about my art-world predecessors. This outstanding play at the Signature Theatre may change that for good.

[On the eyes being windows to the soul: “They call a lot of attention to themselves, the eyes, if you have two sets of sable eyelashes.”] Uh oh. I have a long neck and have been seen from time to time in a feather boa. What does that mean?

The show is extended until July 13th. Don’t miss the opportunity to see it if you can.

But don’t take my word for it. More descriptive reviews:

East Hampton Star

The New York Times

NY Sun

NY Daily News