Noted: "Modotti", Wendy Beckettt Play

Modotti, a new play by Wendy Beckett, traces the life and spirit of the times of Tina Modotti, photographer and political operative, during the first half of the twentieth century. The play explores the tension between a life in art and commitment to political change, and uses the relationship between Modotti and Edward Weston, her lover and photographic "mentor", as the device. Edward Weston (Jack Gwaltney) is portrayed as seeking abstraction and the idealization of form and light in his images, while Modotti (Alysia Reiner) speaks as the representative of using art as a political weapon to enhance and encourage social change, thus creating the "art/reality" conundrum that, among other matters physical and intellectual, drive the couple apart.

Modotti's photographic endeavors were relatively brief in terms of the course of her life, but her images of a revolutionary time in Mexico stands as both a record of the times and a testament to her understanding of the power of photography in fostering social consciousness. Her relationship with Weston, with whom she lived in Mexico and who is credited as her "teacher", is shown as fitful and stormy, understandable in both the context in which they worked and lived and the milieu in which they traveled. At various points throughout the play, for example, when one scene depicts an opening of a show of their work, images of both artists are projected onto a screen on the rear of the stage and the differences in their approach are apparent. Unfortunately, this is done in rather poor lighting, so unless you are familiar with the work you might struggle to see what the fuss is all about.

Overall the play suffers from the overreaching ambition that many "teaching" biographies must-trying to summarize a life in a two-hour span, thus ending up as "teachy" with the actors being, at times, a bit preachy. There are dramatic flairs and moments, but the play seems to veer in episodic fashion from philosophical to biographical to historical notes and back again, and that might be simply too much baggage for such a short trip. Modotti's relationship with Weston, for example, goes from being central to the play's drama to symbolic of the art for art's sake versus art as social weapon debate and then is relegated to Weston serving as bystander and narrator as he reads letters from Modotti that tell the tale of her amazing journeys in Mexico, Spain, Europe and the Soviet Union in the years between the first and second world wars.

Modotti, a play by Wendy Beckett, at the Acorn Theater (410 West 42nd St.) now through July 3, 2010. Tickets at or Theater Row box office, 212-279-4200.