All you need to know about the toll a working life takes on an artist, as opposed to those who market art, was evident at the New York premiere of my Artnet Magazine colleague Tony Fitzpatrick's Stations Lost, the second play in his trilogy about the real America, at The Boiler in Williamsburg on Thursday night.
To my left, Lou Reed swan-dived his head into his lap 15 minutes into the play and fell fast asleep. I turned to MoMA czar Glenn Lowry behind me, crisp and unwrinkled, without a line in his porcelain face, and said, "Get out your iPhone camera, Glenn, there is the performance of the year: Lou Reed, asleep!" It is hard for anyone to sleep for an hour a few feet from the jolly giant Fitzpatrick, much less adopt the yogic position of Reed's velvet slumber.
When Tony raises his naked arms in his muscle shirt in a fit of revivalist passion about, say, first walking into the majestic Blue Mosque in Istanbul, his giant white armpits circle the audience like two laughing moons. Yet what makes Stations Lost a subtle treat are the sly grace points in Tony's surroundings, ably directed by Ann Filmer with video curation by Kristin Reeves.
Stations Lost is a spiritual journey that begins with two cozy desks on a stage, occupied by Big Fitz and his driver/muse Stan Klein (who used to be Kenneth Noland's longtime studio boss). Klein is a natural actor: dry, wry, plays off the effervescent Tony without wasting a drop of energy -- the way Art Carney riffed on Jackie Gleason in The Honeymooners. Klein is that good, getting most of the laughs and stealing the show in its lighter moments.
Another very significant piece of grace is the singer Grana Louise, a true presence. Called to riff off of Tony's tattooed corpus and the whirling video frieze of Fitz's art behind her, Grana Louise sings everything from the Stones' "Street Fighting Man" to bits of "Tommy" to Ry Cooder's "Jesus on the Mainline" to Gregorian chants based on the titles of Tony's art work. She is a revelation, worth the price of admission alone.
But the slyest trick in Stations Lost is the arc of Tony's script, which he was working on right up until curtain time, adding bits about his visit to Occupy Wall Street. At first, his vignettes, about being whacked by nuns, giggling with Louise Bourgeois, being scammed by his buddy Penn Jillette, meeting Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould, ridiculing a childhood friend who has only one eye, seem like nothing more than the bits of a larger more joyous Jackie Mason.
Yet, when Fitzpatrick weaves in his trip to Istanbul (done in response to a dare from some creep he met at a party who wanted to "wipe out all the Muzzies") and being driven by the patient Klein on the old Route 66 across America, what emerges is a genuine and heartfelt spiritual journey.
Tony wears the contradictions of his quest on his tattooed bicep: he is an atheist, he is also as innocent as Candide and a natural hero worshipper, without an ounce of cynicism within him. To look at his extraordinary "Blue Girl" series, about a female Ohio roustabout, on the screen behind him is to anticipate the magic within his protean self that fell in love with the blue circles rimming the walls of an ancient mosque in Turkey.
That such a man could be the creation of a loving God is a joy to contemplate. That such a man could create himself in a godless world is an even greater wonder. Between these two propositions is where Stations Lost lies, so take the L train to see it. You will be uplifted and, more importantly, be reminded about how to uplift yourself again in these grim times.
Tony Fitzpatrick, "Stations Lost," Oct. 20-Nov. 6, 2011, at The Boiler, Williamsburg, tickets $25
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).