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Dramaworks offers lessons on art and life

Feb 18 2012
Christine Dolen | Miami Herald

The fact-based ‘Pitmen Painters' looks at British miners who became outsider artists. ...Like a vividly transportive painting, plays about art and artists can plunge us into fascinating worlds that provoke at least as many questions as they answer. In the case of Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters, those questions include: What is art? How does it make you feel? Is it supposed to make you think? Can anyone be an artist? Who owns art? Hall, who wrote Billy Elliot...examines history, class, politics and all those artistic questions in his warm-hearted play... And Dramaworks, enjoying a smashing first season in new Clematis Street home, is giving The Pitmen Painters a superb production exquisitely staged by J. Barry Lewis. The Pitmen Painters is a fact-based play about British miners who set out to take an art appreciation class and wind up becoming painters themselves. The Ashington Group, "outsider" artists from northeast England, spent the half century from 1934 to 1984 painting, exhibiting and (at least initially) working their dangerous 48-hour weeks in Northumberland's coal mines. Through the Workers' Educational Association, more than 30 miners signed up for a weekly art appreciation class in 1934. Hall focuses on four representative types and one fully fleshed-out character, played wonderfully at Dramaworks by an excellent group of Broadway-tested actors. The production's design elements are of a piece with the performances and direction: topnotch. Michael Amico's meeting-hall set transforms into a manor house and an array of galleries, the latter thanks to Robert Goodrich's multimedia effects. Erin Amico establishes era and class through her beautifully designed costumes. Sound designer Matt Corey bridges scenes with the overwhelming clang of the miners' daily world. And Ron Burns works magic with his lighting, at one point simulating the slow departure of a train from its station. ...Dramaworks' production is a thing of beauty, start to finish.