Final Project Statement of Intent: My Dinner with Sontag

My Dinner with Sontag, my final assignment for our Shadbolt Seminar, is a short play mimicking the style and form of the 1981 Louis Malle film My Dinner with Andre.  In the film, Wallace ‘Wally’ Shawn (a playwright and actor), and Andre Gregory (a theatrical director) play themselves in conversation at a Manhattan restaurant where they discuss their opinions and their wide ranging experiences with theatre and life.  Andre has much more dialogue than Wally, and as the film progresses, Wally notices their philosophical differences—that Andre is very experimental whereas he is more drawn to comfort and ease. Very little action takes place; a server visits periodically to take orders and bring food, but otherwise the two simply remain seated and talking—and yet the film is very engrossing to watch.  In 1999, film critic Roger Ebert wrote after seeing it a second time, that he was “impressed once more by how wonderfully odd this movie is, how there is nothing else like it. It should be unwatchable, and yet those who love it return time and again, enchanted.”

As taken as one may be with the film and its surprising success despite its unusual style, the format does suffer somewhat from weaknesses; Andre talks too often and for too long without any conversational banter interjected by Wally.  It could benefit from giving more equal weight to each character’s dialogue, the inclusion of women, or to have a third character moderate the discussion somewhat instead of having Wally’s character talk internally to himself in a voiceover. I have attempted to amend these imperfections in my play by having the conversation take place between two female GLS graduate students who are dining in a restaurant discussing art and theatre who are periodically interrupted by their server, who, unbeknownst to them at first, is Susan Sontag.

In My Dinner with Sontag, the amount of dialogue is more evenly weighted between the two student characters Andrea (named after Andre) and Wallace (Wally). There are less long monologues and more banter between the two characters to help the audience maintain interest. As they dine, the students debate criticism and interpretation in art and theatre, considering a Jeff Wall light box we saw at the Audain Art Museum, Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, and a work by 17th century painter Caravaggio. They refer to comments that have been made in our Shadbolt Seminar by Uno Langmann and Max Wyman and also quote Walter Pater in the process. When Sontag comes by to take orders or deliver food (or eventually when she just brazenly sits and eats with the students), she quotes from her essay “Against Interpretation” and attempts to guide Andrea and Wallace into a different kind of dialogue that seeks luminousness and celebrates form rather than symbolic interpretation. At this urging from her, the students’ conversation branches out to refer to work by artists playing with form: Broadway theatre director Sam Gold and New York Magazine’s senior art critic Jerry Saltz, while the stage directions begin to simultaneously mirror the experimental form being discussed (although like in the film, the character of Wallace in the play ultimately does tend towards preferring comfort instead of artistic risk- taking). Sontag’s insertion in the play as a third character and a guiding voice is an attempt to shape it into an artistic Socratic dialogue as well as an act of interpretation and creative critique in itself as a play.

-Cathy Collis

Langmann Gallery:  Something for Everyone

“Every painting has a story.”

Those were the opening words of our private tour of the Langmann Gallery located at 2177 Granville Street. Uno Langmann, an antique art dealer and storyteller extraordinaire, first came to Vancouver in 1955. With barely $50.00 in his wallet, Langmann started buying and selling art almost as soon as he arrived in Vancouver, with one of his first modern pieces being Jack Shadbolt’s Greek Farm. From that point on, Langmann spent the next sixty years dealing art and building his reputation as an internationally known art dealer, consultant, and influential leader in his field. He is recognized for his knowledge, preservation and promotion of arts and culture.[1]

LangmannUno Langmann with his first modern art purchase, Jack Shaboldt’s Greek Farm.

His renowned gallery contains eclectic pieces from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries such as dishware, sculptures, candlesticks, and paintings. Most pieces are European; however, he does carry pieces from Asia and North America, and even has a room dedicated specifically to Canadian and Indigenous art. As we toured the gallery, Langmann stopped at each major painting to passionately tell us about the era in which the piece was created, how and where he acquired the artwork, and of course, information about the artist him or herself. His eyes lit up as he told us about some of his favourite paintings or painters. What struck me about Langmann was his ability to remember the fine details of each of the artists such as his or her artistic influences, ancestral background, and even where he or she vacationed. In addition to a plethora of historical knowledge, Langmann also shared his personal anecdotes and interactions that he has had with some of the artists. My favourite story being the time he first met Jack Shadbolt and learned that the only piece of artwork that Shadbolt was missing from his exhibit was Greek Farm, the first Shadbolt piece that Langmann had purchased and had hanging at his home.

As I walked through the gallery, I couldn’t help but notice the substantial price tags of some of the pieces … $1500, $18,000, $48,000… and wonder, is there a market for antique artwork in Vancouver?  Someone must have been reading my mind because soon after the question was raised by someone from our group. “It’s hopeless. Only 2.5% of Vancouverites are interested in antique art, and out of the 2.5%, only 5% can actually afford it” he replies. With such an ominous response from a long-time art dealer based in Vancouver, I ask how art dealers are able to succeed in this increasingly expensive city. “Build it and they will come” he says which is exactly what he had to do to be successful in this industry. It must have been a gamble to invest in antique artwork in a city lacking art aficionados but with his knowledge and reputation, Langmann has built an extremely unique gallery, attracting individual collectors, investors, and museums buyers from all around the world.

As we ended the tour, Langmann closed the evening with, “Every good painting has the soul of the artist in it.” These are fitting words coming from someone whose soul is unmistakeably embedded in his love and passion for the arts.

If you are interested in browsing at century old artwork, purchasing a piece of art, or perhaps having an art history lesson, I recommend stopping in at the gallery and meeting Uno Langmann himself. Located on South Granville’s Gallery Row, the Langmann Gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.

[1] UBC Library. Uno Langmann. Accessed June 1, 2017.