Art Capsule Reviews

Before and After Kevin McGraw refers to himself as a “junkyard guy.” Based on this show, the description is accurate. The title refers to the objects — metal traffic signs, skateboard pieces, tire treads, mudflaps — that McGraw frequently finds along the sides of roads. He incorporates these materials into photographs of assemblages he’s already made. There’s a bit of trickery here. From far enough away, the real objects blend with the photographs, and we’re caught between the two-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds. In “Ortho,” a metal can of wasp repellent is smashed and rusted but recontextualized and revitalized through its placement alongside other aging metals, all of which sit in a heavy (some of the pieces weigh in at more than 80 pounds) industrial frame. The work gives new meaning to the idea of recycling. Through March 25 at the Back Room Gallery, Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, 2012 Baltimore, 816-474-1919. (R.T.B.)

Celebrating a Grand Gift: The Hallmark Photographic Collection On January 12, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art announced that when its new Bloch Building opens in 2007, it will house the 6,500-piece Hallmark Photographic Collection. Keith Davis, director of Hallmark’s fine-art programs, has spent 25 years assembling the collection — which, with its emphasis on the history of American work, is considered one of the best in the country. Davis has organized a 31-piece exhibit to tempt our palates. The show includes important works by such greats as Chuck Close, Alfred Stieglitz and Man Ray as well as two teasers from Hallmark’s extensive daguerreotype collection and Harry Callahan’s “Ireland,” one of 320 Callahan holdings. Just try to take your eyes off Irving Penn’s gorgeous subject in “Woman in Moroccan Palace, Marrakech,” her face turned to confront the camera, the corners of her painted lips turned up oh so slightly. (Penn’s a fashion photographer to the core.) Or Carrie Mae Weems’ highly detailed prints of Ebos Landing, where, the legend goes, a number of West African slaves chose suicide as their freedom, drowning themselves in Dunbar Creek. (Some say that on quiet nights, their ghosts can be heard chanting in the marsh.) Our favorites include the film still of a 22-year-old Cindy Sherman, Ilse Bing’s self-portrait and Barbara Morgan’s 1939 photo montage “Hearst Over the People.” Through April 30 in Gallery 208 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-561-4000. (A.F.)

Five Acres Inspired by the wooded landscape of his upbringing, Kurt Lightner constructs sizable collages from hundreds of hand-cut pieces of painted Mylar, a process that generates works with a luminous, stirring energy. The series is striking in its polarity — in each of these nine pieces, individual elements are often repeated, yet the tones are overwhelmingly distinctive. Anchoring the images are vibrant flowers; lush, cellular growths; and solid trunks. But with additional layers comes the darker, more sinister side of a forest. One piece is thick with slender, blue-black foliage obscuring flashes of a bright background; another, the largest in the exhibition (and our favorite), stacks veiny mushrooms impaled on long, thin stalks atop a large, volcanic structure glittering with almost Klimt-like details. The collages are imbued with nostalgia, imagination and, strangely, an arresting sense of hunger. Through April 2 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick, 816-756-5784. (A.F.)

Turbulent Although we often say that Jessica Simpson shouldn’t be allowed to sing, we don’t mean that her onstage cooing and pouting should be illegal — just that she should consider a less cloying form of expression. Iran’s leaders, on the other hand, aren’t just trying to spare their countrymen such irritations by not allowing women there to participate in public musical performances. Drawing upon that prohibition to make a larger comment on gender inequality in her homeland, artist Shirin Neshat has created a 10-minute video work titled Turbulent in which she stages a vocal duel between Sjoha Youssefi Azari and Sussan Deyhim. On one screen, Azari faces the viewer with an all-male audience behind him; on another screen directly opposite the first, Deyhim stands alone in an otherwise empty auditorium. With Deyhim shrouded in black, Azari begins a lovely, melodic song with traditional lyrics adapted from Rumi. As he finishes, looking pleased (as he should — the man has a gorgeous voice), he hears an unsettling rumble. Deyhim has begun her own performance on the other screen, a series of disquieting improvisations, rapid grunts and high-pitched shrieks. Her expression of freedom is shocking, primal and extraordinarily beautiful. Through March 26 at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak, 816-561-4000. (A.F.)

Hank Williams: Lost Highway If the man who never got out of this world alive could get himself gussied up for all those Opry performances, who are we to begrudge the tony KC Rep its crack at the most torturously strung-out genius in all of country music? With the Rep’s deep pockets and grand production designs, it’ll certainly look good. Add one of the great American songbooks and Van Zeiler reprising his Hank from the celebrated New York production, and we’re thinking it’ll be big fun on the bayou. Let’s just hope they don’t clean his fingernails or try to pass him off as the all-American superchum that Give ‘Em Hell, Harry made of Truman. Through March 19 at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, 4949 Cherry, 816-235-2700. (Reviewed in our March 9 issue.)

Hey There, Harvey Girl The Mystery Train gang, which winningly transforms the Union Café into a railroad crime scene, again presents murder with appetizers. As always, the script comes from local talent, and it’s threaded with Kansas City history. This time, the cheerfully unpredictable story is something about the decorous Harvey Girls traveling in an Old West dining car. Real-life diners are invited to interrogate cast members, make sense of the clues and solve the crime. (Some will have scripts themselves.) The audience participation makes a fine time finer; as funny as Wendy Thompson’s lines are, hearing your neighbors embellish (or butcher) them and then watching the quick-witted cast improvise responses is half the pleasure. Through April 1 at the Hereford House, 2 E. 20th St., 816-813-9654.

Say Goodnight, Gracie Oh, God, you New Theatre devils. Overland Park’s thoroughly professional and often sparkling dinner theater offers this wistful one-man show about the life of George Burns. Suspended in a limbolike state after his death, the play’s Burns (Joel Rooks) is unable to gain admittance to heaven until he, according to press materials, “gives the Command Performance of his lifetime for God.” If you think demanding a free show before giving up the good stuff is churlish of God, you understand how we feel about having to pony up for dinner before getting to see these rock-solid New Theatre shows. Through April 9 at New Theatre Restaurant, 9229 Foster in Overland Park, 913-649-7469.

The Search for Odysseus Advice for anyone on a quest for the original big O: Take a left at the rosy fingers of dawn. This colorful take on Homer’s baggy epic follows Telemachus, Odysseus’ kinda twerpy son, encountering puppets and sword fights on the hunt for his father — who, as anyone who has plowed through the original knows, is shacked up on an island with comely sex witch Calypso. We’re betting that this Coterie production skips that, just as we’re betting that the puppets and sword fights will be totally cool. Through April 2 at the Coterie Theatre, Crown Center, 2450 Grand, 816-474-6552.

Tape Stephen Belber’s sharply barbed three-way battle of the sexes receives the UMKC Theatre Department treatment, which means that, in addition to a script that offers shock and insight in equal measures, we should expect top-shelf production values and some of the hungriest young actors in town, led by always reliable director Joe Price. Through April 2 at Union Station’s City Stage, 30 W. Pershing, 816-235-6222.

Vital Signs Playwright Jane Martin’s (or is that Jon Jory’s?) acclaimed 1990 collection of women’s monologues hits the burbs for the first time since said burbs showed big love for Eve Ensler’s vagina. Has time (and familiarity of form) whetted or dulled the 39 stories that make up Vital Signs? The show is both comic and dark, with an edge of absurdity that Ensler lacked; its highlights include a woman diagnosed as having no personality and another who sets her husband on fire. Through March 25 at Olathe Community Theatre, 500 E. Loula, 913-782-2990.

Your Hit Parade: The American Songbook With Barry Manilow joining Rod Stewart and La Streisand in hamming egocentrically through songs beloved by everybody’s grandparents, now’s a fine time to hear classics done right: with intelligence, restraint and the understanding that the songs matter most. Quality Hill Playhouse’s ace arranger J. Kent Barnhart has given us a long string of cabaret shows in which both songs and singers shine. This time, his piano is rounded out with bass and drums, and he’s promising chestnuts such as “Dream” and “How High the Moon.” Through April 2 at Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., 816-421-1700.

Categories: A&E