Egon Schiele | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Itinerant Theater Guild, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, UIC Theater.

When the great Austrian expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka called expressionist artists "soul rippers," he surely had in mind the contorted, emaciated, nearly decomposing figures of Egon Schiele. This painter and draftsman perverted romanticism's idealized artist-martyr using the iconography of popular photographic pornography of his day (a relatively new invention then), displaying everything that hypocritical turn-of-the-century Vienna imagined unfit for public consumption. Yet Schiele's genius for composition gives beauty even to his most degenerate images.

Egon Schiele is Stephan Mazurek's quasi-biographical dance/theater piece, with choreography by Brian Jeffery. Clearly Mazurek appreciates the arresting beauty of Schiele's work, and he creates some haunting stage pictures with the aid of elegantly orchestrated projections, J.R. Lederle's color-saturated lighting, and Rachel Grimes's mournful score (performed live on piano, viola, and cello). But Schiele's sharp edge eludes him: Mazurek's performers execute highly enigmatic gestures, suspending the work in a haze of confusion. Too often the movement devolves into halfhearted pantomime reminiscent of community theater--a crowd of townspeople flip through Schiele's confiscated notebook and feign horror and indignation in slow motion, for example. More problematic, Mazurek rarely allows his performers to develop more than superficial relationships, and as a result his scenes simply can't evolve or progress.

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