Color Me Impressed

Paging through a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, we were distracted from the lead feature on a disaffected 16-year-old supermodel by a four-page spread for Ralph Lauren--not the clothes, or the teddy bears, or the bedsheets, but the paint. Sample squares of two dozen impossibly bright hues, as well as the ubiquitous American flag (which Ralph, like George Bush, never misses a chance to wrap himself in), were set among photos of buffed men engaging in various athletic pursuits. The idea of "Lifevest Orange" or "Kayak Yellow" covering anything aside from park benches caused shudders, but also intrigued us enough to call the toll-free info line.

We learned from a somewhat curt operator that Ralph Lauren Paint was currently available only in New York, New Jersey, and California, with national distribution expected late this year at Home Depot stores. We asked for further details to be mailed, and a month later we received a package that told us far more than we'd ever wanted to know about Ralph's new project: catalogues, guide books, and pamphlets describing 400 custom colors, plus a 32-shade spectrum of whites, from "Riviera Terrace" to "Candelabra"; four sheen levels; five "lifestyle collections," two "fashion" collections (which rotate twice annually); three "unique finishes," and four "technique" specialty paints.

We were especially impressed with the fake antiquery of the "Historic Crackle" and "Aging" paint processes, which can help in your attempts to add some of Ralph's good ol' days glamour to your dull life: Yes, you can have paint crackled, sun-bleached, or (this is true) smoke-damaged to your specifications. Just follow the application directions, and perhaps your walls will eventually match the tones of the yacht in the catalogue.

The price tag for all this shimmering atmosphere wasn't actually printed anywhere, and for good reason. We had to get another 1-800 number from the Ralph Lauren operator for prices and phone orders. The basic "Design Studio White" rings in at $27.49 per gallon, which is a little pricier than Dutch Boy's "Confident White," available at Menard's for $6.48. But it's a steal compared to the $75 you'll shell out for a gallon of Martha Stewart's "Silkie White." But then again, Martha and her color wheels are another story entirely. (Matt Keppel)

PASSIONSPIELS

Once every decade, for 363 years, the villagers of Oberammergau, Bavaria have staged the same passion play--a dramatic presentation of Christ's trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. While the metro-area passion play My Choice may not yet match that tradition, this touring production by Kevin Petersen is now entering its not-unimpressive 17th season. And unlike most examples in the genre, Petersen's play concerns itself as much with the inner conflicts of each Biblical figure as with the well-known plot itself.

Ever since Petersen wrote the original script, My Choice has undergone annual revision, reflecting the changing aesthetics of author and audience alike. Petersen's studies (and Vatican guidelines) have led the author to modify language, as well as to elaborate on the role of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who presses the Romans for Christ's execution. While Petersen's script now suggests that Caiaphas's actions were compelled by secular duties to protect his people against the Romans, even lapsed tribe-members (like this critic) may look nervously for the fire exits when the angry Hebrew mob starts shouting for Christ's blood. By comparison, though, Petersen reports that Hitler was a fan of the Oberammergau Passionspiel, where Jews were depicted with horns.

"Our premise is just like Bill Shakespeare," Petersen says, "lavish costumes on a bare stage." He believes the 40 performers--whose offstage lives include careers as "plumbers, electricians, [and] insurance salesmen"--confront acting challenges that would give "equity professionals" fits. Every stage is different; the company might show up in the afternoon and discover a communion rail. "Spencer Tracy once [gave] this advice to young actors: 'Learn your damn lines.' We've elevated acting to this spiritual, godlike status. But it's [just] acting; you learn your lines and you get up there." In My Choice, the apostles talk Minnesotan.

When Petersen isn't preparing the play ("a year-round affair"), he's shampooing rugs and hanging miniblinds, as an apartment caretaker. Other members of the cast and crew remain similarly dedicated to My Choice. Music director Mary McGovern-Sherbrooke has been with the play since 1981. Other members of the family Petersen figure prominently: the director's six brothers, four sisters, and several nieces and nephews. Brother Jeffrey--who could pass for Kevin's identical twin--portrays Judas. Another brother, Ray, first appeared in the second season of the play, and has acted in every one since. He's been Pontius Pilate, Jude, Nicodemus, and, this year, Simon Peter. But according to Kevin, "only one person has held the same role and responsibility for these 17 years: My mother. She does costumes." Marie Petersen retires and refits a few outfits each season. In the theater lobby she pokes at her son Kevin's robe (he's Herod) and announces that it is due for a replacement. "Are you in costuming?" she asks us. "Oh, you're here to write about my son!" She extends her arms for a mom- media hug. This should happen to a theater critic more often. "Listen," Kevin says as we walk to the door, "give me a call, and we'll put you in the play next year."

 
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