James Franco and Laurel Nakadate Raise the Dead

Although it’s said he haunts a bar in New Orleans, the ghost of Tennessee Williams visited Manhattan last night. He was called forth from the ether by a spiritualist hired by James Franco and artist Laurel Nakadate, for their Three Performances in Search of Tennesee. The 90-minute event interrogated the power dynamic between actors and directors, and followed suit with Franco’s interest in his life colliding with contemporary art and Nadakate’s prior investigations into how women and men relate to each other.

After a guided meditation invoking Williams, a dozen young women who had responded to an open casting call were auditioned for the role of Laura from The Glass Menagerie. They played it opposite a video of Franco as the Gentleman Caller, and he and Nakadate gave notes from the side of the stage. It was a bizarre inversion of the usually private undercarriage of the theatre world. In this imagining, the women were encouraged to make the “role” their own—but was the role Laura, or was it a girl auditioning for the role of Laura? Some failed with hilarious consequences, and some held their own even amidst Franco’s wattage. Neither of the artists knew what would happen but, says Nakadate, “We wanted to explore different ways to perform. No props. Just human beings being interesting.”

In the last of the three performances, a number of men were invited to deliver the play’s final monologue. It began mundanely, but when artist Ryan McNamara asked Franco and Nakadate to come onstage and make literal some imagined stage directions, it was finally clear that the performers held the power position. The last monologue was given by artist Kalup Linzy, who brought the house down with a lip-synched, gender-bending, dialogue version of the final speech.

Three Performances in Search of Tennesee was co-commissioned by Performa and the new online exhibition platform and marketplace, Paddle8, which will host videotaped selections of it for the next week. Nakadate will open a show of her work at Harvard this Thursday, and her book 365 Days will be available in Febraury from Hatje Cantz.