Francesca Woodman’s work is, to a large extent, still not that well known, despite a number of international exhibitions over the last 15 years or so, including one at Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery in 2009. For anyone who has been lucky enough to have seen her work, CalArts Festival Theater’s Francesca, Francesca … provides an interesting, if fictionalised, background to Woodman’s short life, which ended in 1981 when the talented photographer committed suicide at the age of twenty-two.
Inspired by her work, notebooks and various critical writings, Francesca, Francesca … is a piece of bio-fiction—a meeting of the factual and the myth—written and acted by Chelsea DuVall and directed by Megan Lewicki. The company use the small space of Venue 13 very successfully, and it provides exactly the sort of intimacy needed to convey Woodman’s delicate sensibilities. After all, despite the artistic boldness of Woodman’s pictures, her nude self-portraits also reveal her vulnerability, capturing her almost merging into her surroundings, as if wanting to remain hidden.
The use of a combination of slides, digital projection and live video, projected both onto the back of the set and onto gauze, is incredibly effective and very well executed. These recreate a sample of the artists visual world, with which the two actors, DuVall (Francesca) and Skylar Hamblen (Sloan), are then able to interact. Within this context, the actors’ nudity becomes completely integral to the play’s visual language: delicate, unforced and unsurprising.
The acting is both competent and natural, but somehow the meaning of the words and the overall structure of the work become somewhat lost in the play’s delivery, and despite the obvious care by all involved, by the end of the play, Woodman remains nearly as enigmatic as she was at the beginning: the audience haven’t quite been allowed in.
Francesca, Francesca … has a fragile beauty about it, sensitively capturing the imagery of Woodman’s pictures. For this alone, it is certainly well worth seeing.