Cornell outside the box


It’s possible to enjoy Hotel Cassiopeia—the Charles Mee, Anne Bogart, and SITI Company production playing at Court Theatre through December 10—without knowing that its subject is the reclusive but observant American collage artist Joseph Cornell.

It’s possible—but the more you know about the Surrealism-influenced artist, who lived with his mother and ill brother in Queens and worked a series of mostly drab day jobs, the more you can experience the Cornell-like pleasure in seeing how bits and pieces of his life and art come together. Even the play’s title combines two well-known assemblages or “Cornell boxes,” The Hotel Eden and Cassiopeia.

While the play’s text, which focuses on Cornell’s interior journeys and questions, doesn’t always cohere, the same can’t be said of the staging: Bogart has translated Mee’s suggestions for the set design—

A wall of stars:
the constellations
or the moon
or a vast star map of the cosmos covers the back wall
[or should it look like a Pollack painting?
splashes and droplets of white paint].

—into a fluid backdrop that melds Cornell’s collections of objects with his love of movies, ballet, and filmmaking.


A wall of stars provides the backdrop for Joseph Cornell’s assemblage of fascinations (birds, ballet) and responsibilities (mother, brother). Photo by Harlan Taylor.

November 22, 2006