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Coosje: The “Play” Is The Thing, But Each “Thing” Is A Collaboration (2012 FRIGID NEW YORK FESTIVAL)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on February 25, 2012

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A pear is always more than just a pear and a man is more than the sum of his collaborations.


Coosje the story of Claes Oldenburg (played by Steven Conroy) and his long-time collaborator and wife Coosje van Bruggen (played by Julie Congress). It is also the story of a Pear who is “self-aware” (played by Haley Greenstein).

Like Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, Coosje is a story about how an artist’s process of creating helps them develop a new reality for themselves as well as for the people seeing it.  Coosje allows for intimate interaction with the elements of the creative process.  This play highlights the notion that every piece of art is the completion of a journey for an object (real or imagined, sentient or inanimate) to get to the place where its inclusion in the art creates the context and meaning of the art itself.


The play begins with a short film representing the Happenings of the 50′s and 60′s that occurred organically around the world with many people including Claes Oldenburg.  The Happenings collected people together to do a variety of thing to challenge the rules of convention (think of a more disorganized flash mob before the age of cell phones).  This film is a prequel, of sorts, which sets things up for when we meet our characters.  It is shot in sepia tones and we hear the sound of a clackity old projector. There are various miming people moving in jerky and unusual ways as well as over-graceful and melodramatic ways.  Every movement is laid with meaning  - even if it is to escape the normal meaning of it.

The story begins with the self-aware Pear singing of her journey of discovery as realizing that she is special: she is empowered by this significance to be more than just a snack:

“I’m a pear.  Self-aware … I’ll live 1.000 lives in one for every pear…
I’ll go everywhere…”

And so begins her journey around and around the world and beyond, as she discovers what it means to be human … even if she is a pear…but also searching for her purpose beyond just exploring the world for all those pears that never get beyond the fruitbowl.

This sets the stage for the type of performance that Claes was trying to achieve before he began his journey of challenging  convention by putting everyday objects in extraordinary contexts.  He meets Coosje and they reflect and react to each others’ view of what it means to see the world in terms of art – or art in terms of the world.  Cooje becomes Scully to Claes’ Mulder, and together they create art together unlike any the world has ever seen before.

Looking at the teasers for this show it may seem  like Coosje would be merely a celebration of the fantastic, the absurd, and the surreal — which it is– but the heroes’ journey our characters all go through help them find some very real and provoking truths that are important to be realized and shared in this production.

There is a Pear that sings, dances and – most importantly – explores the world, searching for her purpose. There is also a love story between an artist and a critic.  One wanting to break all conventions of form, the other wanting to figure out how  everything fits together.  Between  moving ballads and giant inflating flowers, there are the personal and spiritual ramifications of a blueberry pie. And much, much more! These all meld together to make some very deep and touching points on why we should all be more playful so as to learn to find out what our purpose in life really is.

Steven Conroy as Claes

The production of the piece is done with great mastery by many talented individuals starting with the short film Happenings (organically arising from the exploits of Giselle Chatelaine, Steven Conroy, Maura Cordial, Ryan Emmons, Haley Greenstein, Ryan Huenstein, Raena Hubbell, Maxwell Schneller, Danny Tieger, and Enrico De Trizio), to the plethora of fantastical art (Jen Neads and Maxwell Schneller) and of course the whimsical costumes (Loring Taoka).  According to actor Steven Conroy who I spoke with briefly after the show,  the writing was done by the ensemble collaboratively  (many of whom are visual artists themselves) after they were inspired by an installation of Oldenburg’s art they had seen together at the MOMA several months ago.  Director (Ryan Emmons) did a great job at orchestrating this complex show with it numerous moving parts, so it looked like it had months of rehersal time behind it.  The songs written by Danny Tieger and music expertly played by Enrico De Trizio (who also did the sound and projections which were an integral part of this piece) as well as the choreography (Olivia Wingerath) and light design (Ryan Hauanstein) put the final touches on this beautiful play premiering at Frigid.  I hope circumstances allow this play to continue on in the future.


Don’t miss out on this thoughtful critique on the nature of art-as- filtering-framework that creates meaning (but then allows that meaning to be flipped around at a moment’s notice).  If you’ve ever wondered what sort of story there could be behind big crazy public art, you need to experience Coosje.


Company: No. 11 Productions
Directed by: Ryan Emmons
Feb 25, 10:00PM
Feb 29, 9:00PM
Mar 02, 6:00PM
Mar 03, 7:00PM
UNDER St.Marks


The 2012 FRIGID NEW YORK FESTIVAL will run February 22-March 4 at The Kraine Theater & The Red Room (85 East 4th Street between 2nd Ave and Bowery) and UNDER St. Marks (94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave and Ave A). Tickets to all shows may be purchased online at or by calling Smarttix at 212-868-4444.

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