Frame of Possibilities

A humorous take on the influence of museums on the art the public sees.

You are the East Bay’s Tom Stoppard:  Witty and insightful.  I had the best time.  It was an excellent production and I liked all the cast members, who seemed “just” right for their roles.  The bit with the black pipe at the end was the best.  Dave Robinson, UC Professor

An intelligent, informative, thought-provoking, entertaining, well-acted, well-staged play.  Fine job!  –Patricia Durham, Lawyer and Community Education Activist

I kept guessing up to the end how you would resolve the choice conflict.  The quickening dialogue and pace up to the final scene were very well handled.  And the humor was great…it would be nice if the play were performed in San Francisco—the art scene could benefit from a little levity…April Rox, Lawyer and avid theatre attendee.

ARDSLEY WHITLEY Chief Curator of the Forbes County Museum of Art
MORGAN BESSWASSER Docent Trainee at the Museum
FRANK RICH Maintenance Man in Museum
FOUR OTHER ACTORS docent trainees, waiters, delivery people, and artists.

First Act: The unit set includes Melvin’s Studio, colorful with his paintings and detritus; and a gallery at the Lincoln City Museum, severely outfitted with white walls and monochromatic canvasses.

Second Act: The portico of Ardsley’s house. (Steps and door)

Running Time: Slightly over two hours.

In this scene, Morgan, the artist’s girlfriend, runs into the janitor, Frank, as he is sneaking out with a ladder which is part of an assemblage called “My Father’s Workbench”.   This assemblage contains all the typical tools of such a place in a garage or basement, and the janitor has been borrowing things for his museum chores.

MORGAN: Are you really using the ladder from the assemblage?
FRANK: I jes’ need to borrow it an hour or so.  Time he’s back from his lunch I’ll have it back.  You could see for yourself he don’t know the difference.
MORGAN: No, he knew something was missing
FRANK: Listen, at least if I use the tools the piece is worth something.
MORGAN: I gather you work here, Mr.  [looking at his badge] Rich.  “Exhibition Specialist.”
FRANK: That’s what he gave me two years ago when I ast for a raise.  A fancy title, and twenty whole dollars a week more.  I’m still the one fixes the toilets when they break.
MORGAN: That’s what the College did when I finished my PhD.
FRANK: Got you to fix toilets?!
MORGAN: No, gave me a fancier title, and a tiny bit more money.  By the way, I’m Morgan Besswasser.
FRANK: Howdy.  Say did you see that exhibit coupla years ago, it WAS toilets?
MORGAN: I don’t think so…
FRANK: [Taking apple out of pocket, taking bite.]  Right in this here room it was.  Four toilets right here in the middle;  each one facing a different way, you see.  Around ‘em we had to set up four glass sliding doors. You can still see the screw holes, see?  Called “Southern Exposure”.  I’ll never forget that name.  It was a riot, the reactions we got, even though I never did get what it was about.These Granny Smith apples is terrible this time of year.  Mealy.

[Puts apple into paint can of “Workbench”.]

Anyway, I guess it was better than cleaning real toilets.  Mrs. Whitley-his mother, you know–she hated that kinda stuff.  She wouldn’t even come to the opening of his Salons, in her own house!  That’s why this here contemporary ward is new.  This here room used to be Chinese jades.

[Starts looking in jar on workbench]

I wonder if they have any size 2 1/2 screws.

I was a docent at the Oakland Museum when I wrote FRAME OF POSSIBILITIES.  Although I was of course familiar with impressionism and expressionism and all various non-figurative art forms, I had no idea of the amount of prejudice in the professional art world toward anything that “looks like anything.”  In the course of lectures when the works of artists Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell were disparaged as “illustrators, not really artists”;  or when Celia Beaux was left out of the syllabus entirely, because she was a “lesser” painter; or when we spent half an hour with a art curator extolling a piece of wood painted absolutely plain shiney violet or one painted entirely dull black, I saw the depth of dislike of what I had always considered perfectly normal art.

On the other hand, most of the visitors walked directly past the expressionist gallery to find the Art Deco, historic, or Asian pieces.  In five years as a Docent, I never had a visitor ask directions to the “Expressionist Gallery.”

Naturally I felt the strongest urge to go with humor on this subject.  And from beginning to end I did have fun with it, and so did the cast and crew.  I enjoyed writing the scenes and even  laughed my way through retyping it.  Watching them get set up often caused the actors fits.

You will need several paintings for this play, for Melvin’s studio.  When it was done in Oakland, at the Opera Theatre, a local artist, Dan Fontes, loaned us some of his work, and even painted one piece for the show.  If you are working in a college, it might be the perfect opportunity to show some student work.  However, I had originally assumed that theatres which didn’t have access to real paintings would use photographs adjusted with shellac.  From stage distance, they would suffice.