3 Lives, 3 Centuries, 1 Story: At What Cost, Success?
The Life Henri by Adam Bailey
Outstanding New Play
Now Magazine, Toronto Fringe 2017
★★★★ from VUE Weekly (Edmonton), Now Magazine (Toronto) and Saskatoon Star Phoenix
The world premiere of Adam Bailey’s third play is the art history lesson that you didn’t get in uni, blending those slides with equal parts comedy and existential angst. Henri Rousseau was a consummate failure of a painter who had the misfortune to be painting in late 19th century France, at the same time artistic luminaries such as Gauguin and Picasso. Bailey intersperses personal experiences of bullying and outsiderness and probably-unnecessary bits of Stephen King’s Carrie. The moral is that “fitting in takes a lot of work”, but leaves questions of privilege unexplored. Nonetheless, a lovely and entertaining show. (Jay Smith)
How does that horrific pig’s blood scene from Stephen King’s Carrie relate to the life of post-impressionist artist Henri Rousseau? The charming and imaginative Adam Bailey (Adam Bailey Is On Fire) connects them, and much more, in this funny, informative and moving solo show.
In an intimate gallery at Alliance Française, Bailey, aided by a slide show of the master’s works, guides us through the main points of Rousseau’s life: his childhood poverty, his dull day job, his personal tragedies and his decision, in mid-life, to pursue art full-time, despite not being taken seriously by critics or colleagues.
There are lots of vivid stories, which Bailey evokes with great energy (if anything, sometimes he sells the tales too emphatically). But look for a scene in which Rousseau is abandoned by his mother, and a brilliant recreation of the infamous Rousseau Banquet, hosted by Picasso.
What makes the show even more poignant is that Bailey interweaves stories of his own life and feelings of being an outsider. The deeper theme is what it takes for an artist to create, despite economic uncertainties, the vagaries of fashion and criticism and the cruelty of humanity. (Glenn Sumi)
Saskatoon Star Phoenix
On paper, The Life Henri is little more than an art history lecture. In reality, The Life Henri is an incredibly entertaining, inventive and hilarious art history lecture. If only all art professors had that much energy.
With little more than a laptop and projector, Adam Bailey tells the story of French painter Henri Rousseau, capably weaving in stories of his own upbringing and scenes from Stephen King’s Carrie. It doesn’t sound like it will work, but thanks to Bailey’s knack for storytelling you hang on his every word.
Rousseau is now considered a master, but was ridiculed by critics and the art community in his own time. He was also hopelessly unaware he was the butt of everyone’s jokes. Through his performance, it’s clear Bailey cares deeply about the man and he wants the audience to as well, regularly referring to the painter as “our Henri.” Bailey shares Rousseau’s life in a way that is so tender but so honest, it’s easy to connect to the painter.
Bailey’s not telling his own story, and yet he is. The Life Henri showcases parallels between the French art world and Canada Fringe Theatre circuit. He’s also telling the story of creative people the world over in ways that make you consider the value of art and doing what makes you happy.
If passionate and polished storytelling is your thing, The Life Henri is a tale worth hearing. (Stephanie McKay)
UMFM Radio (Winnipeg)
In this one-person show, Adam Bailey tells us about the incredible life of 19th century French painter Henri Rousseau. He took up painting in mid life but his works were not highly regarded by critics who found them primitive and lacking proportion. However, Picasso took one look at his work and thought Rousseau was a genius. This is the ultimate story about the perseverance of an artist. You won’t believe the twists and contradictions in Rousseau’s life. Bailey is full of energy, although at times I felt he was shouting too loudly in this small venue. Still, The Life Henri is one of my favourites so far at the Fringe. (Justin Olynyk)
Mooney on Theatre (Toronto)
The Life Henri, produced by Still Your Friend and playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, takes us on a vivid and touching journey through the life of nineteenth-century French painter Henri Rousseau. However, this show isn’t just for art lovers; performer Adam Bailey, directed by Laura Anne Harris, tells Rousseau’s story with great humour and humanity.
The Life Henri follows the rise and fall of Rousseau’s artistic career, making great use of a slideshow to illustrate the story. Bailey’s one-man performance is clever, compelling, and fun to watch. His enthusiasm for the twists and turns of Rousseau’s life was so infectious that I found it impossible not to be swept up in the story.
Bailey often touches on universal themes, such as the “accomplishment of being average,” yet he makes these ideas accessible by illustrating them through personal and specific anecdotes from his own life. I particularly enjoyed his story about seeing the Monet exhibit at the AGO. There is also some nice crossover between the story and the site-specific performance space; the art gallery atmosphere at the Alliance Françaisetransports us easily into the world of the show.
The Life Henri explores a considerable range of emotions, from good-natured jabs at critics (yes, I heard you!) to tougher moments of adversity and challenge. Yet Bailey moves smoothly from one topic to the next; the flow always feels natural, never jarring, and I found the climax quite moving. Bailey also surprised me by drawing several unexpected but interesting connections between Rousseau’s life and Stephen King’s novel Carrie.
Overall, this is a fun, thoughtful, well-polished show. Rousseau may have had his work “murdered” by critics, but The Life Henri need not fear the same fate — at least not from Mooney on Theatre.
My Entertainment World
The Life Henri (A-)
This solo show by Adam Bailey is essentially just an art history lecture, complete with power point presentation, presented site-specifically in an art gallery. I’ve never had any interest in art history at all but I would sign up tomorrow if Bailey were teaching a class. Funny and informative, Bailey’s presentation focuses on Henri Rousseau’s humanity and the under-told stories that made him the painter that he was. A total delight.
Excerpts From The Edmonton Fringe Press Release
Last year Adam Bailey introduced himself to Edmonton Audiences with his self-titled one man show, Adam Bailey is on Fire, picking up ★★★★½ in the Edmonton
Sun and ★★★★ from the VUE along with high praise from Liz Nicholls who saw that “this puckish urchin of a guy is agreeably user-friendly”. The play went on to win the Patron’s Pick at the 2016 Toronto Fringe as well as get shortlisted for the coveted Best of Fringe, which Mr. Bailey had already won for his first play The Assassination of Robert Ford in 2014.
Now ready to premier and star in his third written piece Mr. Bailey thinks he knows what Edmonton wants: the life of an outcast post-impressionist painter blended with a famous horror story and seen threw his own unique lens. Henri is a comedy, of course. A Ted Talk gone sideways. Adam Bailey tries to make sense of the life of Henri Rousseau, who quit his job at 40 to become a great realist painter despite having no talent, but today has works at the MoMa, the Louvre and the National Gallery of England. The story weaves threw post revolution France to the heyday of the Parisian art scene, and finds unusual but fitting modern parallels in Adam’s telling featuring a cast of characters from Pablo Picasso to Stephen King.
To ensure the show’s success, Mr. Bailey has brought in a previous Fringe Darling to direct. Laura Anne Harris who’s Pitch Blond premiered at the Victoria in 2007 and successfully toured for 6 years, also took on a quirky historical figure in a way that was engaging and meaningful to modern audiences. The team hopes to work magic at this year’s Fringe! And why does Mr. Bailey, a Toronto based artist, want to premier his newest piece in Edmonton, “I found a special bond with Edmonton audiences last year and when that happens to you as an artist you need to respect it. Starting my next Fringe Adventure in Edmonton is my way of doing that”.
Henri plays at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival from August 11th to 21st at The Almanac (Venue 25) 10251 82 Ave NW. Show times are Thurs 11th at 10pm, Fri 12th at 7pm, Sat 13th at 10pm, Sun 14th at 6pm, Mon 15th at 5pm, Tue 16th at 9pm, Wed 17th at 7pm, Thurs 18th at 9pm, Fri 19th at 5pm, Sat 20th at 6pm & Sun 21st at 2pm. Tickets are available Wednesday, August 3, 2016 at 12 noon at www.fringetheatre.ca Contact Adam Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org
★★★ Edmonton Journal
Toronto’s Adam Bailey presents something between a slide lecture and a play, illuminating the life of the great French painter Henri Rosseau (1844-1910), a so-called primitivist of the Post-Impressionist era best known for his exotic depiction of a jungle in The Dream.
Our host’s enthusiastic delivery frequently switches to portray characters from Rousseau’s story, altering his voice to make fun of the pretentious, self-serving types the artist put up with, sketching out a little context to explain Rousseau’s time, his works, his contemporaries and transitions in the art world. Apart from Bailey’s knowledge of art, it’s clear that he’s very caught up in the sad plight of the artist whose genius was relatively unrecognized during his lifetime.