The name Peggy Guggenheim instantly evokes modern art. A member of a wealthy Jewish-American family, Guggenheim is best known for her world-class collection of works by Picasso, Dalí, Miró, Chagall and others. Starting this month, Performance Network Theatre will present “Woman Before a Glass,” a one-woman play starring Naz Edwards that explores the inner workings of Guggenheim’s life.
“Woman Before a Glass”
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Sept. 5
At Performance Network Theatre
Tickets from $25
Guggenheim, notorious for her outrageous behavior and foul mouth, was the quintessential socialite of the early 20th century. At her Palazzo in Venice she mingled with the likes of Igor Stravinsky, Truman Capote, Paul Newman and playwright Samuel Beckett. In fact, it was Beckett who first suggested that Guggenheim begin amassing her legendary art collection.
Not only was Guggenheim interested in the work of modern artists, but she also had a passion for the artists themselves. In addition to her two failed marriages to artists Laurence Vail and Max Ernst, Guggenheim claimed to have engaged in affairs with numerous other painters and sculptors.
Yet “Glass” reveals the woman behind the affairs and the signature bat wing-shaped sunglasses.
“She was a very public character in the way she put herself about,” said Malcolm Tulip, a School of Music, Theatre & Dance clinical assistant professor and director of “Glass.” “But I think in more ways, she was deeply private and that she protected herself by being so outrageous.”
The play takes place at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Guggenheim’s home in Venice, which now serves as a museum for her collection. As the 60-something Guggenheim, Naz Edwards addresses the audience in an extended monologue.
Through Guggenheim’s speeches, we learn about her relationships with her ex-husbands as well as her children, particularly her daughter Pegeen, who was also an artist. Guggenheim also relays events from her past, including her escape — with her collection — from Nazi-controlled Paris.
A driving force in the play is Guggenheim’s struggle to decide the fate of her treasure trove.
“One of her obsessions is what’s going to happen to her collection after she dies,” Tulip said. “In fact, she seems more concerned about her collection than her children. So when she refers to ‘my children,’ she’s usually talking about her art … She just doesn’t want it to go to her uncle’s museum, the Guggenheim in New York.”
Edwards, who portrays the eccentric and promiscuous Guggenheim, is a Broadway actress and singer. She was last heard at the Performance Network as the man-eating plant Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Children of the ’90s might remember Edwards for her voice role as Queen Beryl on the hit anime series “Sailor Moon.”
Tulip, who has collaborated with Edwards at the Performance Network in “Man of La Mancha,” had high praise for the veteran actress.
“She’s a good actress and works extremely hard,” Tulip said. “The interesting thing is when directing one actor, you are as much a confidant, a psychiatrist, a confessor, as well as a traditional director because it’s more of a conversation. It’s more of a temporary artistic marriage than just leading a troop.”