I WILL FORGIVE the Jewish Theatre Collaborative (JTC) the title of the art show hanging in conjunction with their current production. I will forgive The Graphic Novel—Not Just a Place for Super Heroes because, though we live in a city that boasts several key comics publishers and an incredible density of talent, it is important to keep in mind that the cultural relevance of the graphic novel is not yet acknowledged by all. I'll wager the concept still gives trouble to many people my parents' age—which not coincidentally looked to be the average age at JTC's Charlotte Salomon's Life? Or Theatre? on Friday night. Probably some of them even had their minds cracked open a bit by the blown-up panels from Persepolis and A Contract with God–and that's great, even if my comics-savvy date and I did find ourselves cringing at the quality of the reproductions.
What I can't bring myself to forgive is the performance itself, a multimedia integration of image, music, and theater that takes as its source material the illustrated autobiography of Charlotte Salomon, a young German artist who died in Auschwitz in 1943. I can't forgive the structure of the piece, which begins as a chronological narrative and digresses bafflingly into ancillary character arcs; I can't forgive the intermittent rhyming, or the expository nature of the script, as characters narrate their actions in the third person; I can't forgive a lack of narrative tension so utter that at one point I actually thought, "Oh, thank god, the Nazis. That means it's ending soon."
With this original adaptation, JTC carves a 90-minute show out of Salomon's 700-plus page art book, which itself integrates text and art (hence the graphic novel connection) with musical selections intended to provide a sort of soundtrack. But if the characters and writing were Salomon's own, the JTC is still on the hook for its show's clunky structure, which culls Salomon's life to a highlights reel and periodically interrupts its action with lengthy musical numbers. (In German.) The final result, much like the poorly photocopied panel from Marjane Satrapi's brilliant Persepolis hanging in the lobby, is a clumsy approximation of the work it is meant to honor.