One of the most fascinating personages of the 20th century was inarguably artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whose approach to creativity revolutionized modern art in the 1920s by introducing emotion to the artistic palette. It was a transformation that can still be felt to this day, particularly in New Mexico, her home for the last three and a half decades of her life.
Local audiences will get the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the life of this iconic figure, fleshing out the bones so to speak, when Dallas-based theatre troupe Flower and Bone Productions present the one-woman play “O’Keeffe!” at the Black Box Theatre July 25 – 28. Directed by Ouida White and performed on stage by Carolyn Wickwire, “O’Keeffe!” has been called a tour-de-force of femininity and strength.
It was these very qualities that drew Wickwire to the role initially. In fact, she had already decided she wanted to further explore the persona of Georgia O’Keeffe on stage before she ever even found Lucinda McDermott’s one-woman production.
“I admired O’Keeffe so much as a strong, independent woman of the early 20th century who really had to fight for her place in the world and her place in life,” Wickwire said. “So when I started thinking about doing a one-woman show, I immediately thought of her. I went online and found there already was a play out there, which was written in the early 1990s. I immediately secured the rights.”
Taking place over a 30 year period, between 1915 and 1946, the play in question explores the artist’s passionate quest to find and express her artistic voice, as well as her tumultuous love affair and marriage to the revolutionary photographer and champion of the Modern Art Movement, Alfred Stieglitz.
It is also, at its core, a ghost story in that rather than transporting the audience back to the early 20th century to weave its wondrous tale, it projects O’Keeffe into the 21st century where she stresses the importance of finding one’s own voice.
“Georgia comes back from the dead because she is plagued with questions she wants to discuss with the audience,” Wickwire said. “In the process, she also reenacts a lot of the major turning points of her life. She was a flawed person, of course, and a very complex person. To be true to her, to have responsibility to her, I have to present her just the way she was. Flaws, passions and all.”
Hitting the boards for the first time in April 2012 under the Flower and Bone Productions banner, and touring intermittently throughout Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and New Mexico, “O’Keeffe!” has been receiving rave reviews wherever it is performed.
TheatreJones.com sums it up best when they say that Wickwire’s “Georgia charms and challenges, instructs and admonishes, seduces and engages the audience, always brutally honest and totally committed to her art and the world-class photographer Alfred Stieglitz, her life partner, whom she affectionately calls ‘Old Crow.’”
The actress attributes part of that success to a trip she and director White took to Ghost Ranch during the rehearsal process, in which she discovered “just a glimmer of the magic” to be found there.
“It really helped inform my interpretation of this play, because it deepened my understanding of her,” she said. Even so, taking that initial plunge was a courageous moment for the actress, another point of connection to the artist whose persona she would soon inhabit.
“At the time I started working on the idea of producing and performing a one-woman play I was 75 years old,” Wickwire said. “I had never done anything like this before. I didn’t become a professional actress until I retired from my first career at the age of 51. There’s no doubt that the older I get, the more of a risk taker I become.”
It’s an experience the actress cherishes on many levels, though she admits to feeling a certain thrill when she performs it in New Mexico. But what can “O’Keeffe!” bring to New Mexican audiences who may already think they know everything there is to know about this enigmatic figure?
“Expect to get a feeling of her love for New Mexico, for the freedom she felt there as well as the beauty,” Wickwire said. “And, of course, everyone can identify with her struggle in balancing her work, her passion and a love relationship. I know Georgia would love the honesty of the play. I hope that she would approve of the way I am portraying her.”
As an added treat for fans of the artist and neophytes alike, a special exhibit, titled “Taking Off With Georgia,” has been organized by local artist Margaret Bernstein and will be on display in the Black Box Theatre’s TheTheatreGallery during the run of the show. The exhibit will feature works by 23 local artists, inspired by and in the style of Georgia O’Keeffe.
“For the twentieth century public and for artists, too,” Bernstein said, “Georgia O’Keeffe’s art was their first visual glimpse of the southwest, New Mexico in particular. Her interpretations of the land and nature, whether liked or not, stimulated imaginations and conversations and continue to do so.
“What makes Georgia O’Keeffe special is that each of us knows the emotions she felt when she arrived in New Mexico. All of us share them. They are universal.”
This article originally appeared in the July 26 issue of The Las Cruces Bulletin. All rights reserved.
7 p.m. Thursday, July 25; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 26 and 27; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28
Black Box Theatre
430 N. Main St.
Adults $12; students and seniors $10