Whenever you visit a museum, it’s easy to imagine stories that surround the pieces being exhibited. But how often do you wonder about the lives of the people who work in the institution? The premise of Spot on the Wall basically establishes that their lives are just as enigmatic and “artful” as the works in display. The museum’s curator (Charles West) is preparing to pass the baton to his young assistant Laurel (a truly superb Madison Stratton who brims with adorable neurosis) who feels she might not get the position given all the men they’ve been interviewing lately. The curator is also hard at work preparing for the opening of a new wing named after Michael Hunter (Neal Mayer) the museum’s biggest benefactor. Hunter’s late wife designed the museum’s centerpiece, a sculpture of “Apollo and Daphne” (who are played by Lisa Kuhnen and Michael Warrell, both in godlike shape), and the wing will feature an exhibition of photographs by Hunter’s son Paul (Robert Hager). The obvious bureaucratic nepotism (more of a flaw in Kevin Jaeger’s book, than a criticism of moral decay in artistic institutions) is neglected in the name of good old fashioned “drama”, as we see the characters engage in romantic trouble and Oedipal shenanigans, all of which make for an entertaining, if not particularly illuminating time at the theatre.
Devin Dunne Cannon directs with finesse and populates the show with little touches that do remind one of visiting a museum, in particular how she has Daphne and Apollo not only move around and follow the characters around (in some scenes they also play younger versions of some of the characters) but more efficiently she has them subtly change their facial expressions according to the mood of the scene, an effect that reminds one of the way in which art “changes” and “grows” with us.
The lush score by Alex Mitchell aches with equal doses of melancholy and hope, and Jaeger’s lyrics contain bits of wisdom that sometimes strike one unexpectedly (“art can not replace a life that’s gone off course”), and while from a class perspective the lives of the wealthy benefactors and moderately well-off employees and artists of the museum, can sometimes feel a bit too shallow, the piece ultimately does take us outside ourselves to try and make us empathize with people who have the economic power to have museum wings named after themselves. In the end, the show seems to say, even they have heartaches they hang and display on the wall.