No. 11 Productions

By Sarah Lucie

Who knew that a pear could sing? Or that giant spoons and hot dogs are soul mates? And what’s more, who knew that all three of these can make you laugh, make you cry, and leave you with a charmed smile on your face? You will never again question a pear’s melodic capabilities after witnessing No.11 Productions’ Coosje. And if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

Coosje is a love story between two daringly creative artists, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and structured much like one of their works of art. Rationality is muddy, but the experience takes precedent. Not everything is meant to be understood, but as in life, the unanswerable questions are the most interesting ones. Scenes between Claes and Coosje are framed by the brave quest of the singing Pear, who travels around the world in search of the meaning of life.

The most charming aspect of the story is the pure love between an oddball pair. Steven Conroy and Julie Congress radiate onstage as Claes and Coosje, and every act of tenderness is so truthful that it warms your heart. Steven embodies the quirky charm of an artist, with a whimsical creativity that’s somehow tangible. Julie Congress is just as committed to her role, embracing Coosje’s sharp character while somehow making her cutting remarks and blunt attitude endearing rather than abrasive.  And let’s not forget the Pear. Haley Greenstein is exceptional as the self-aware fruit. She is utterly enchanting, with a mischievous glint in her eye that is contagious. 

What is perhaps most appealing about Coosje is its pure, unharnessed creativity that embraces the essence of Claes Oldenburg’s work. Ultimately, the experience of seeing the production succeeds in informing about the life of Claus and Coosje, but also communicating their indefinable essence. One highlight is the creation of a giant donut onstage, which is reminiscent of Oldenburg’s real installations such as Floor-Cone and Floor-Burger. But the donut also has a function—one of the sprinkles contains grey-hair dye and another age make-up to communicate the passage of time. In a touching scene, Claes and Coosje lovingly apply the make-up to each other. The scene is so lovely that wrinkles are almost desirable.

Coosje is a rare find that combines different mediums to create something entirely new. In addition to the pieces of art that pop up throughout, the show begins with a short film, contains original music, and includes some crazy costuming (Claes liked to dress up, in this case, as a hot dog). Coosje is a must-see, and if this is the quality of No. 11 Productions’ work, then they are a group to keep an eye on. 

Coosje; Created by No. 11 Productions; Directed by Ryan Emmons; Frigid New York Theater Festival 2012;