Monday, February 2, 2009

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: East County Magazine

Hotel Cassiopeia

Reviewed by Kathy Carpenter
East County Magazine

Now showing at the Don Powell Theatre at the San Diego State University campus, through December 7, 2008.
Sundays 2:00 p.m. all other days 8:00 p.m. For ticket information call 619-594-6884 or check online at

Charles L Mee's Hotel Cassiopeia follows the American collage artist Joseph Cornell. Cornell's dreamlike abstract art is the theme of the play, which is directed by Peter James Cirino. Characters in the play are reminiscent of people Cornell knew, observed or dreamed about. Mee created the play from diaries, letters, clips of Cornell’s life, and the music and movie he loved.

Photos provided courtesy of SDSU. Joseph Cornell and Lauren Bacall played by Phil Kruse and Annie Pritchard.
The Ballerina is played by Diahanne McCrary.

Why "Hotel Cassiopeia?" Cassiopeia, the constellation, is forever - Hotel Cassiopeiais a place you check into for a night or two. Come spend some time at a place between the two. Experience the world through the eyes of Joseph Cornell, played with sensitivity by Phil Kruse, as you become immersed in the many wonderful characters who filled his life: ballerinas, an actress, artists, friends, the women he teried to love, his mother who controlled him, and the sick brother to whom he was devoted.

The costumes were fantastic, which really made the story come alive. The ballerina was one of my favorites characters with Diahann McCrary doing all the magical dance moves every little girl dreams of in her beautiful pink costume. The cast is large and I'm sure you'll find your own favorite as you follow along the in the journey of Joseph Cornell's world.

Kathy Carpenter is a reviewer for San Diego Write Way and blogger for Eric Maisel Creativity Central blog.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Review: Gay & Lesbian Times

Hotel Cassiopeia
Published Thursday, 27-Nov-2008 in issue 1092
Gay & Lesbian Times

An odd assortment of people wander across the stage before the show begins: a ballerina, two men in suits painted à la Jackson Pollock, Lauren Bacall, a waitress, a pogo stick rider, a severe-looking woman pushing a lawn mower, a trio consisting of a pharmacist, an astronomer and an herbalist.

These are all characters – real or imaginary – in artist Joseph Cornell’s life. Playwright Charles Mee’s memory play Hotel Cassiopeia plays through Dec. 7 at San Diego State University’s Don Powell Theatre. Peter James Cirino directs.

Born in 1903, Cornell’s personal life revolved around his overbearing mother (Kimberly Ford) and little brother Robert (Billy Khang), a cerebral palsy victim, with whom he lived until they died. Cornell assumed the responsibility of providing for the family at 14, when his father died. He worked in various places, including a Manhattan textile studio. He never studied art.

After hours, Cornell collected found objects at flea markets and junk shops, which he took home to his collection in the basement. There he used them in unique collage boxes, a technique known as assemblage. His work, influenced by the Surrealists, was admired by many leading artists, and Cornell showed his work at the Guggenheim and Metropolitan museums in New York. He was also an avant-garde filmmaker, making dreamscapes by splicing together existing film stock and changing the lighting. Holiday in Brazil is one example.

taking its cue from Cornell’s eccentric life (and based on his diary), is a multimedia extravaganza that gives SDSU’s technical team a chance to shine in ways not often possible. The set is an enormous wooden construction resembling an oversized piece of furniture of the type one might use to store and display art or pottery. Suspended up right is Robert’s room, itself an elevated box. Videocam projections flash onto the wall with close-ups of the actors. Platforms slide in on what sound like ball bearings, usually carrying a character. A child’s slide appears and is used by cast members. A pianist plays on stage left.

There is no linear plot; Hotel Cassiopeia is a collection of snippets from Cornell’s life. Through all the apparent chaos, Cornell’s near-crippling shyness comes through, a problem which prevented him from connecting with women.

is an extraordinary (if strange) dramatic event, at once fascinating and puzzling. Cornell was definitely a breed apart.

The cast is fine, individually and collectively, but the stars of this show are the technicians who built the constructions and make the stage magic work.

Only four performances remain. If you’re in the mood for adventurous theater, give Hotel Cassiopeia a whirl.

plays through Dec. 7 at SDSU’s Don Powell Theatre. Shows Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinee Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, visit

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Poem inspired by Joseph Cornell

If you have a spare minute and 46 seconds, listen to the rhymed, anapestic tale of Stabbity Rabbit's misadventure with Joseph Cornell.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sneak Peak!

Tomorrow is opening night of Hotel Cassiopeia at San Diego State University. Click on the picture to catch the first glimpse of the show. We hope to see you there!

A special thank you to Zwink Photography

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Charles and Joseph: Fractured Lives

What happens when a life-changing event happens to someone in the transition between childhood and adulthood? For Charles Mee and Joseph Cornell, it led to the creation of beautiful and fragmented art.

Joseph Cornell's father died when he was 13, thrusting him prematurely into the role of head of the household. He would assume the burden of supporting his mother, Helen, and his disabled brother, Robert, until their deaths. Only a few months after his father died, Cornell was sent away from his home in New York to a boarding school in Massachusetts. The trauma of the separations he experienced during his thirteenth year no doubt affected the way his life unfolded. He never married or had normal relationships with women. Could this be due to the trauma he experienced during puberty? It's no wonder that much of his art is devoted to memorializing childhood - it was when he was happiest.

Charles Mee's life also changed drastically when he was a young teenager. At 14, the athletic, fun-loving youth was stricken with polio. He spent months recovering. During this dark time, he began reading; a teacher brought him Plato's Symposium to keep him entertained during his hospital stay. His future as a football player was set aside and Mee discovered the painful reality of how people with disabilities are treated, even by their family and friends. Mee has said that his work is fragmented because his life has not been ordered and intact.

These two collage artists - one with images, one with words - have left works that allow us to view the world the way someone has when his life has been broken and pieced back together.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Note from Assistant Director Juan Hernandez

Joseph Cornell’s life, the World of Cornell, is a landscape rich in images, personalities and dreams. Through this vast palette of concepts we have taken these ideas and brought them to life through the performance. In our production of Hotel Cassiopeia, we have taken the idea of the Cornell boxes and his eccentric form of art and have created and advanced the development of the characters to fit a more clearly defined idea of a Cornell art piece. Through the randomness of the items found in Cornell’s boxes, it can be seen that they bring into being a state of harmonious unity and equality of significance. With this idea, we bring to life the world of Joseph Cornell and are introduced to people who were important to him.

Throughout the rehearsal period, we have created a very comprehensible set of characters. From Joseph’s journey through his life to the imaginative creation of the Astronomer, Herbalist and Pharmacist, we get a colorful canvas in which Joseph lived.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Note on the Play

Joseph Cornell never married, never traveled far beyond his home in New York, and never graduated from high school. He did, however, fill his life with poetry, biographies, films, operas, and ballets. He ate too many sweets, corresponded at length with friends, and volunteered at the Christian Science Reading Room. Though Joseph Cornell was not a formally trained artist, he was an avid collector and an ardent observer, and these traits heavily informed his art. His eclectic and detailed collage shadow boxes secured his place in art history.

Cornell was born in 1903 to a comfortable, happy home. His childhood was filled with magic shows, wax museums, and trips to Coney Island. In 1917, Cornell's father died, abruptly ending his childhood and thrusting him into the position as head of the family. A devoted brother and son, Cornell supported his mother and spent most of his life caring for his brother Robert, who had cerebral palsy. Although his familial responsibilities were numerous, Cornell managed to follow some of his own desires and create an inner life. After long days working at a Manhattan textile studio, Cornell would roam the streets, wandering into junk shops and flea markets to find little treasures he could take home and file away in his basement. His "dossiers" grew to include pictures, ticket stubs, magazine clippings, and other bits of ephemera on a variety of subjects. In 1931, Cornell discovered the Surrealist collage art of Max Ernst. He immediately went home, raided his collection of old books, and made his first work of art.

Cornell's art continued to evolve over the next few years, eventually culminating in the shadow boxes that are his legacy. Cornell's work is abstract and dreamlike, similar to the Surrealist work he was inspired by. The popularity and success of Surrealist art paved the way for Cornell, though he never really fit in with the sexual and irreverent aspects of the movement. Cornell wanted to create something "healthier". He drew upon his religious beliefs, his love of all things French, and his worship of beautiful dancers and actresses. He idealized childhood, creating works that exhibited his love of innocence, purity, and chastity. He created memorials to the past, giving him a tangible piece he could hold onto forever.

Hotel Cassiopeia is not meant to be a literal or historical recreation of Cornell's life or art, but instead a representation of the man and his work. The characters in the play depict some of the family members, artists, and friends that he knew intimately, as well as people he never met. The play enacts scenes that are similar to real situations Cornell experienced, as well as those we only imagine he did. The play's collage structure deliberately reflects the work of Joseph Cornell. Charles Mee created Hotel Cassiopeia from interviews, Cornell's diary, letters, writings about him, clips from his favorite movies and music that he enjoyed, and bits and pieces from the internet.

Why the title, Hotel Cassiopeia?

“Because,” says Mee, “Cassiopeia the constellation lasts through all eternity, while a hotel is where people check in for a couple of nights.” So, check in for the evening and capture a little piece of the eternity that Cornell tried so hard to preserve.

Lauren R. Beck

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Untitled (The Hotel Eden), c. 1945

In the later half of the 1940s, Cornell moved away from his early Surrealist inspirations and began making art that was more closely tied to the current movement, Abstract Expressionism. The Aviary boxes, with their clean, white walls, have a stark look that differs from his earlier boxes. Cornell was delighted when Willem de Kooning once admired the "architecture” of the series. The boxes in his Aviary series hint at Cornell's long obsession with birds. He loved watching them play in the birdbath in his backyard and his mother often would chastise him for letting birds eat crumbs off the kitchen table. There are many possible interpretations for the birds housed in the Aviary boxes. The curvaceous, feather-clad singers could symbolize the beautiful female performers he pined for. The fragile, flying creatures may have reminded Cornell of the innocent spirit that he often admired in children. Or perhaps the birds represent Cornell himself - a lonely creature, trapped in a cage.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Untitled (Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall), 1945

After Cornell saw Lauren Bacall's first movie, To Have and Have Not, he became infatuated with the beautiful young actress. "The chiaroscuro lighting" combined with the "absolute vertical lines" of Bacall's face fascinated the artist and inspired him to create a work that celebrated his image of the actress as a purely innocent creature, ignoring the sexuality she exudes in the film. The Penny Arcade Portrait of Lauren Bacall is a game with a little ball that rolls past images of skyscrapers and Bacall at different ages, carrying viewers through time and space. The faces of Bacall appear behind blue-tinted, segmented glass, evoking the silent films and 'peep show' penny arcades of Cornell's past. Cornell wanted the viewer to "travel inclined runways - starting in motion compartment after compartment with a symphony of mechanical magic of sight and sound borrowed form the motion picture art - into childhood - into fantasy - through the streets of New York - through tropical skies, etc. etc." Cornell once said that he preferred film to live theatre. The cinematic close-up shot of a beautiful woman, like the one in the box, provided the illusion of intimacy, while allowing him to maintain a chaste distance.