A moving meditation on truth and illusion and what it takes to become famous, the Garry Marshall Theatre’s West Coast premiere of Edward Albee’s “Occupant” reveals the life story of flamboyant sculptor Louise Nevelson. Combining excellent acting and directing, the thoughtful production presents Nevelson’s never ending struggle for recognition and artistic success as it considers how we define ourselves.
The story revolves around an unnamed man (James Liebman) interviewing the imperious Nevelson (Martha Hackett) from beyond the grave. While he attempts to focus on strict biographical information, she ponders life, fame, and what often must be eliminated in order to succeed.
Director Heather Chesley builds crackling energy and pacing into proceedings with the counterpunching conversational give and take between the characters; a battle of wits and control keeping each on their toes. They dance around the stage and the truth.
Acting is first rate, bringing a somewhat simple concept to life. Hackett reveals an enormous range, from brooding and vulnerable to passionate and powerful, forcefully overcoming any challenge in her way. Openly sarcastic and mocking at the start, Liebman relaxes and grows pensive as he gains empathy for Nevelson’s struggles.
Design work enhances the production, with the spare, elegant, almost gallery-like set eventually opening and revealing a striking reproduction of a Nevelson work.
Timely in its discussion of what it takes to succeed as woman and immigrant, “Occupant” provides an absorbing look at memory and how we discover our voices.
The Garry Marshall Theatre presents “Edward Albee’s Occupant” Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm through March 4 at the Garry Marshall Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr. in Burbank. Tickets cost $45-$65 and can be purchased by visiting GarryMarshallTheatre.org or calling 818-955-8101.