Arts & Leisure
Mass Explores The Artist’s Tender Psyche
(Photo: Mass with Moria Stone and the Chorus, Joe Kolbow)
Mass: An All-Female Rock Musical, now onstage at The Brick, explores the themes of art, insanity, love and how they relate to each other. We follow Mary, an MFA student, Francoise, her sculptor girlfriend, and Kate, Mary’s sister and aspiring arts manager, as they try to eke out a place in the art world. Mary (Moira Stone) is a traditional painter, in love with physical beauty and Francoise. Francoise (Esther Crow), on the other hand, is more interested in stripping art down to its barest bones, even if that means just an idea with no execution. Kate (Rebecca Gray Davis) is attracted to the business of art, the saleable, saying something new that people will want to buy. The pressures of the art world, academic rigidity and the struggle to succeed as an artist weigh on all of them, some weathering better than others. Mary’s delicate mental state and Francoise’s fluid sense of self both take big hits before the lights come down.
The religious experience of art is also explored. The title, Mass, has a dual meaning: the artist’s physical existence as art, and as the Catholic service. Art has the power to be worshipped, and the art field is constantly tearing down its false gods. It is no coincidence that “passion” also has a dual meaning, both to love dearly and to suffer, a word so associated with Christ. What we have here is a passion.
The rock score has echoes of Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, and it is impossible to separate from Sunday in the Park with George, a very different musical about experiencing art. Mary’s theme, “Painter-Butterfly”, is reminiscent of many of George’s first act soliloquies in the characters’ zeal and frustration with their own work, the passion of the painter. It is by far the most solidly written and performed song in the show, a quiet beauty that you’ll hum on the subway ride home.
The story unfortunately tends to wind in on itself quite a bit. Arcs feel occasionally unexplored and the performances are strong but inconsistent. Stone’s soprano heights and tortured carriage demand respect; Crow comes into her own embodying the sham artist as televangelist; Davis has winning comedic timing throughout. But Mass never completely gelled for me—an intense evening of ideas, questions and themes all worth poring over that didn’t quite find a through line. Philosophers of the art scene will get the most out of this piece; the general public would do well to put on their thinking caps first.
Mass: An All-Female Rock Musical runs through April 30th, with tickets still available. Tickets are $18. Visit The Brick's website for details.