Photo: Susi Damilano

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Opening Night:
September 8, 2014
October 12, 2014

Theater: 59E59 Theaters / 59 East 59th St., New York, NY, 10022


Bauer is the imagined confrontation between famed modernist painter Rudolf Bauer, his wife Louise, and Hilla Rebay, Bauer's longtime lover. Delving into the now near-forgotten feud between Bauer, his benefactor Solomon Guggenheim, and Rebay, the woman who introduced them, Bauer throws into relief an unresolved art controversy. With his life's work procured by the Guggenheim Foundation, Bauer believed that the museum in New York was being built to house his creations. However, the Guggenheim opened without a single Bauer on display. What happened to his paintings? Was this the perceived betrayal that caused Bauer to set down his brushes and never paint again? Celebrated playwright Lauren Gunderson, winner of this year's Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award and a Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist, tackles this scandalous story of the controversial artist whom the Nazis once jailed for "degenerate art", and who is considered by many art historians and critics to have had a major impact on modern artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.


    Tantalizingly Close to Art World Fame, Then Plunging Into Obscurity A Bio-Play on the Painter Rudolf Bauer, at 59E59 Theaters

    Laura Collins-Hughes

    September 9, 2014: Near the exit to the theater on Sunday, an usher stood with a stack of booklets, free for the taking: colorful little catalogs for an exhibition by the 20th-century German abstract painter Rudolf Bauer, whose life we had just seen dramatized in Lauren Gunderson’s play Bauer. It’s a story of an artist as a broken man. With his hero Kandinsky, Bauer (1889-1953) was once at the center of Solomon R. Guggenheim’s collection, bound for immortality on the walls of that magnate’s museum. But Guggenheim died, his heirs took over, and Bauer got obscurity instead. Bauer is presented at 59E59 Theaters by the San Francisco Playhouse and its board member Rowland Weinstein, whose San Francisco gallery represents Bauer. The production coincides with New York shows of his work: at the German consulate now, at Sotheby’s later this month. All of that makes Bauer, directed by the playhouse’s artistic director, Bill English, seem more like a collision of commercial interests than like an aesthetic enterprise greenlighted on the merits. Ms. Gunderson, however, comes with some recent accolades: Her play I and You was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and won a new-play award from the American Theater Critics Association.


    Lauren Gunderson theatricalizes the story of German painter Rudolf Bauer and the inauspicious end of his career at 59E59 Theaters.

    Hayley Levitt

    September 9, 2014: "Order and disorder. That's all we have." Lauren Gunderson opens the earnest floodgates of Bauer, her tribute to the tortured 20th-century German painter Rudolf Bauer, with a subtle nod to Stephen Sondheim's fellow-canvas-inspired Sunday in the Park With George. A pioneer in the field of "non-objective" (i.e. abstract) art, Gunderson's work of historical fiction tackles the complex emotions and motivations behind Bauer's disappearance from the art scene in the early 1940s. Fluctuating between a sleepy living-room drama and an incongruously avant-garde display, Gunderson lands on a few genuinely intriguing moments — though to find them you have to weed through these alternating spurts of lifeless order and overwhelming disorder. We meet our title character (a stoney Sherman Howard) upon his dramatically morose entrance into the artist's long-abandoned studio. Filled with dusty crates and a tarp-covered aisle, director and designer Bill English has created a sparse environment, appropriately absent of any creative life. Micah J. Stieglitz's projections, consequently, become all the more captivating as they periodically transport Bauer back to his days of inspiration. While the reasons for his artistic dry spell remain unclear for a painstakingly extended portion of the play, the opening scene between the ex-painter and his wife (and former maid) Louise (played with a nurturing, though slightly flimsy hand by Susi Damilano) suggests that their impending visitor is at the core of the issue.


    Off-Broadway Theater Review: BAUER (59E59)

    Dmitry Zvonkov

    September 9, 2014: “Of course I care (what she thinks), I hate her,” says a character in Lauren Gunderson’s Bauer, a San Francisco Playhouse production about the German artist Rudolf Bauer, who painted during the first half of the 20th century. It is one of many lines that pop in a play which, though a little bumpy in the beginning and with a dénouement that borders on sentimental, is a rare emotional and intellectual treat. Outstanding performances and Bill English’s deft and thoughtful direction make watching the show a rich and satisfying experience. Ordinarily, when I hear of a bio-drama, I hurry off in the opposite direction. Mostly they are terrible. Crammed with facts whose significance is usually misinterpreted, they consistently lack truthfulness, drama, and a personal vision—which is what makes Ms. Gunderson’s creation all the more remarkable. The action in Bauer happens in real time, over the course of 90 minutes, taking the form of an imagined encounter between Rudolf Bauer (Sherman Howard), his wife Louise (Susi Damilano), and Countess Hilla von Rebay (Stacy Ross), a former lover and supporter whom Bauer now sees as his enemy.



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