Hartford Arts & Divine Rivalry

My art preferences are a fantastic photograph or a splendid song. Yet, there is so much great art out there. Last night, Debbie and I got to experience some diverse art, and it was cool. Hartford, Connecticut has a thriving arts scene. The Wadsworth Athaneum is the country’s oldest public art museum.

We raced through the museum at closing time and got a quickie tour of some nice notable works of art. We saw pieces from many different eras.As an example, we saw Rashaad Newsome’s pop art. His symbolism was interesting. Rap culture is at the core of what he does. We also saw Monet’s Waterlilies exhibit. We saw art by Mather Brown and Jackson Pollock. It was an eclectic mix. The Wadsworth is a gem.

After our Wadsworth tour, we caught the world premier of Divine Rivalry at the Hartford Stage. Michael Kramer’s play is set in Florence, Italy in 1504. It is a four-person, two-act, affair. The play is a story about a painting competition between rivals Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti. The architects of the competition are the chancellor of Florence, Niccolo Machiavelli, and his boss, the chief magistrate, Piero Soderini. The play is inspired by actual events, but is a unique story created by Kramer.

I haven’t studied Italian history in recent years, but I did read Irving Stone’s The Agony and Ecstasy in high school and Machiavelli’s The Prince, in college. So, I knew a little bit about 15th and 16th century Florence before entering the theatre. The Hartford Stage recently received a $4MM makeover. Divine Rivalry is the last production under the guidance of Michael Wilson, who has been the Artistic Director for 13 years. He is leaving the company for a new challenge. During his tenure, Wilson has done a lot for Hartford and its surrounding communities. Through his work with the Hartford school system, he has introduced many children to art.

I last saw a Wilson directed production in 2007 when he helped the Connecticut Forest & Park Association with Forces of Nature. Before the play, we met the playwright, Michael Kramer, who is a well-known political correspondent. He was a former political reporter for Time magazine and the New Yorker. Kramer is extremely proud of the fact that he has tackled this new challenge after spending years covering Washington politics. He joyously encouraged the group we were with to take on new challenges and to risk failure. He cited one of Leonardo’s lines from the play after repeatedly failing to fly with man-made wings, but still learning something new, “Catastrophe is the catapult to knowledge.”

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