Pollock, Pound for Pound for 15 Rounds

Artworks have always had different value to different people, but it’s doubtful any artist’s paintings have ever sold for such a wide disparity in prices in such a short period of time as Jackson Pollock in recent years.

Last November, Pollock’s “Number 5” fetched a tidy $140 million, the highest price ever paid for a single painting. That same month saw the release of a documentary called “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” that tells the story of a truck driver who bought a purported Pollock painting years earlier in a thrift store for $5.

Perhaps that dichotomy is appropriate, as Pollock was and still is one of the most divisive painters in modern history, one whose “Jack the Dripper” detractors nearly match his admirers if not in number than in fervor and intensity, and that doesn’t even take into account his cantankerous personality that was well-displayed in the fictional film starring Ed Harris a few years back.

Now, local audiences are getting another opportunity to get next to the Abstract Expressionist painter as DIJO Productions and Virtual Theatre Company present “Fifteen Rounds with Jackson Pollock” at the Victoria Theatre May 31 through June 16.

The play nearly got consigned to the same sort of garbage heap in Long Island where Pollock often tossed his own discarded, unfinished ideas. Written by Bruce Clarke, “Fifteen Rounds” has had only one production, at a small community theatre in Maryland, where it ran for less than three weeks in the summer of 2004.

“I was asked if I was interested in being in it, but it was right around the time that I was moving to Montecito,” says Oshinsky, a veteran trial lawyer who has virtually retired to focus on theater in recent years. “But I liked the play and kept it in the back of my mind.”

After DIJO and Virtual mounted “Hannah and Martin” last November, Oshinsky was looking for another historical drama to serve as his next vehicle, and “Fifteen Rounds” popped back into mind.

“Once I moved here and saw Ed Giron (the veteran Montecito actor who runs Virtual Theatre Co.) act, I knew he’d be perfect for this role,” says Oshinsky. “It’s a very strenuous pay. He does a lot of movement. And that’s one of the things Ed is so good at.”

Oshinsky says the main reason the play hasn’t been produced more frequently is because of its taxing technical and physical demands, which can prove insurmountable for a small theater company.

“It’s a very difficult play to mount as a practical matter,” he explains. “If you’re doing a play about art, you can’t just talk about it, and just have it be declarative and narrative. I think you have to see the art for the play to work. You have to witness the creative process happening on stage. That requires special lighting and sound and movement effects. We’re bringing in all sorts of technical devices to make that happen, including recreating several of Pollock’s paintings.”

Audiences will in effect see Pollock painting on stage, via replicas, video and actual art materials. But the play isn’t just visceral impact, says Oshinsky, who also plays Clement Greenberg, the influential American art critic who championed Pollock the whole Abstract Expressionist movement.

“There is a real story arc about the process of creativity,” he says. “This play talks about the discovery of Abstract Expressionism and the revelation to Jackson Pollock and the art world around him.”

Oshinsky is thrilled that a renewed interest in Pollock might bring more people in to the theatre, whether they tilt more toward the $5 crowd or the $140-million Santa Barbara upper crust.

“I guess we really caught the high tide of interest,” says Oshinsky. “And that’s great. Because this is great history, and great drama.”