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Arts This Week: 'Henry James and American Painting,' 'Oleanna,' 'The Revolutionists,' 'A Guide For The Homesick'

A portrait of Henry James by John Singer Sargent.
National Portrait Gallery, London, Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

This week, Jared reviews three new plays in Boston and takes us to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to discover an influential circle of artists in "Henry James and American Painting."

"Henry James and American Painting," on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum through Jan. 21, 2018

"An Interior in Venice" by John Singer Sargent.
Royal Academy of Arts, London, Courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

At the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a new exhibition examines the unique relationship between American novelist Henry James and the artists of his time. Known for his painterly writing style, James authored many popular works of fiction, including "Portrait of a Lady," "The Ambassadors," "The Bostonians," and "The Golden Bowl." This exhibition of oil and watercolor paintings, photographs, manuscripts and letters highlights the writer's friendships with artists like John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, and John La Farge.

"Artists, their studios and galleries are very important places in James' fiction," said Declan Kiely, Director of Exhibitions at the New York Public Library, who curated the Gardner exhibition. "The way that James sets scenes in novels, it's very visual."

Well traveled in artists' circles, James enjoyed a decades-long friendship with collector Isabella Stewart Gardner. It evolved from the formal to the fawning, says Curator of the Collection at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Christina Nielsen.

"We watch over that span of the 100 letters and 30 years two very kind of fiery, passionate characters ... mellowing out, in a way," said Nielsen. "[They were] passionate to the same things, deeply interested in extremely high culture and the gossip of the day."

"Oleanna," presented by New Repertory Theatre through Nov. 5

Obehi Janice and Johnny Lee Davenport star in "Oleanna" at New Repertory Theatre.
Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures, Courtesy of New Repertory Theatre

A classic play by David Mamet opens at the New Repertory Theatre at a poignant moment. "Oleanna," follows a failing young college student (Obehi Janice), and the professor she seeks guidance from (Johnny Lee Davenport). Originally premiering just after the 1992 Anita Hill testimony, in which Hill accused supreme court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, the play grapples with misunderstanding, misdirection and misogyny in the teacher/student dynamic. A slow first act suddenly boils over in the second, "leaving us scalded by our perceptions," said Jared, who recognizes the relevance of this piece amid the Harvey Weinstein allegations of sexual misconduct. 

"Sadly, it's the perfect play for this moment," he added.

"The Revolutionists," presented by Nora Theatre Company at Central Square Theater through Nov. 12

Lee Mikeska Gardner and Celeste Oliva in "The Revolutionists."
A.R. Sinclair Photography, Courtesy of Central Square Theater

Lauren Gunderson's comedy "The Revolutionists" makes its way to Central Square Theater. Set during the "Reign of Terror" in 18th century Paris, a playwright, an assassin, a Haitian activist, and Queen Marie Antoinette all meet to discuss how art might better reflect their stories — before they all lose their heads. Jared describes the production as "extremely funny and hilarious, but very poignant because we're seeing not fraternity here, but sorority."

"A Guide for the Homesick," presented by Huntington Theatre Company through Nov. 4

Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III star in "A Guide for the Homesick."
T. Charles Erickson, Courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company

At the Huntington Theater Company, two Americans find themselves far away from home with heavy consciences. "A Guide for the Homesick" follows two men, Teddy (McKinley Belcher III) and Jeremy (Samuel Levine), who meet in an Amsterdam hotel haunted by their immediate pasts. Geopolitical, religious and socioeconomic themes all crash together for a compelling piece about two travelers buried by the baggage of horribly miscalculated decisions.

Are there artists in your life that you think deserve more recognition? Tell Jared about it on Facebook or Twitter


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