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Idealism and politics intersect in `Modotti`

New York: In every generation, some idealistic young people believe that their own enthusiasm can improve the world.

"I want to be at the forefront of change," declares 24-year-old aspiring photographer Tina Modotti in 1920, in Wendy Beckett`s idea-packed, new biographical play, ‘Modotti.’

Beckett, who also directs, includes much historical exposition about the pre-World War II intersection of art, politics and naive idealism, in her ambitious but confusing production currently performing off-Broadway at the Acorn Theatre,

For the bohemian, Italian-born Modotti (a luminous portrayal by Alysia Reiner), that forefront of change involved joining the Communist party and moving to Mexico, where she was joined for a while by her lover, photographer Edward Weston, who is somewhat stiffly played by Jack Gwaltney.

Beckett uses artistic license to cover two adventurous decades of Modotti`s life, attempting to combine her personal journey and her idealistic, and at times dangerous choices, with political context.

Mexico, like much of the world in the 1920s, was embroiled in social unrest and upheaval, with the so-called Mexican Renaissance soon giving way to governmental repression of both foreigners and mass movements such as communism.

Graceful, languid and confident, Reiner lights up the stage, embodying a free-spirited activist who takes many lovers and uses both the art of photography and principles of communism to try to advance the rights of Mexican peasants and workers. Modotti`s conflicting passions for art, men, politics and photography are emphasized throughout the play, although Reiner`s beguiling characterization is overshadowed at times by stilted dialogue and surrounding political events.

But it remains unclear why kindhearted social leanings propel Modotti so deeply into the more rigid, apparently even murderous aspects of the Communist party.

Several talented actors portray some of Modotti`s famous friends and lovers. Mark Zeisler is chilling as Vidala, a cold-hearted man representing hardline communism, while Andy Paris charmingly enacts two of Modotti`s doomed lovers. Artist Diego Rivera is depicted by Marco Greco as a cheerfully loyal, pragmatic comrade. Dee Pelletier and Stacey Linnartz portray multiple female parts that round out the quickly paced scenes.

Rivera`s murals and iconic photos by Weston and Modotti are among the atmospheric projections beautifully utilized by set designer John McDermott. Although we are left wanting to know more about the real Tina Modotti, this examination of one woman`s struggle to make a positive difference in the world is worth a look.

Bureau Report

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