Jennifer Chase and Eva Matthews are real Renaissance women. They act, sing and write beautifully, and can manage a visual artist with the grace and elegance of a trumpeter swan. And everyone knows that working with artists is like herding stray cats. “All I’m really good at is painting and reciting Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven with my belly button,” quips local painter and funnyman Tony Wood.
The visual artist is gearing up for Eva Chase Wood? — a collaboration at CoRK Arts District in Riverside with those leading ladies. The program features Chase’s memoirs, Matthews’ performance and Wood’s paintings.
The subject is Chase’s coming-of-age story, set in the ’70s, of a Catholic girl dealing with life and all that goes with it. “Eva brings the character to life,” Chase says. “Many of the Catholic sacraments form a timeline of the voice of the narrator from about ages 7-13.”
Chase stands in awe of Matthews’ talent, and the way they met was not unlike love at first sight (in an artistic sense). “One day, I noticed paintings of Eva in Tony’s studio,” Chase says. “Eva’s honesty as an actor, her ability to meld humor, truth, camp and drama, is a real gift.”
And so she had to be the one to portray the young character, full of a Catholic guilt whose baggage is forever etched on the soul. “It became a series of stories from the 1970s Catholic school, obligation, coming-of-age — that awkwardness of trying to be something you’re not — all this stuff started coming out,” says Chase. She’s surely secure with her life at this point, but, true to her good Catholic girl-ness, the residual emotions emerge eventually.
Wood wasn’t initially keen on collaborating on the project; after all, it’s not an easy task to illustrate someone else’s story of pre-pubescence — especially someone of the opposite sex. But the father of two daughters relented and agreed to paint his idea of this particular phase of Chase’s growing up.
“At first, I was against illustrating Jenn’s work, but as the memoir developed, it guided the paintings, and I knew I wanted them to add a direct narrative link to the play,” he says. “It was a true [collaboration], in that Jenn and I would talk about the iconography in her memoirs and that would spark more ideas in the paintings.”
No stranger to tough subjects, Wood was up to the task. “I can relate a bit to the characters because I was a teenager in the ’70s and listened to the same music that Jenn listened to, the same music she has added to the performance. I can only relate to the Catholicism through my experience and education in art history and my love for it. I do, however, connect with the paintings, as they relate to the characters and how the spoken word and theatrical scenarios inspired them.”
When he’s not reflecting on his admiration for and waxing poetically about his partners, Wood is teaching at Stanton College Prep and painting maniacally in his CoRK studio. Many of his pieces are on display at Southlight Gallery in Downtown Jacksonville.
Matthews, a local actress also starring in Jennifer’s upcoming rock opera, La Caroline, was excited for the challenge of — well, being someone else. “I have zero experience with Catholicism, but I do know a thing or two about being a bratty teenager, so I think it wasn’t as hard as I expected.”
Still, as a milennial, “Some of the 1970s’ references were sort of lost on me as well. It’s definitely not without its challenges.” To combat that ignorance, she says she “had to utilize Google a few times” but that “Jenn does a great job explaining a lot of the references, and I think the stories are pretty universally applicable, no matter what decade you’re from.”