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I’ve always hoped to dismiss any claims the artist Jeffrey Koons might make on aesthetic legitimacy, but a recent trip to UC Irvine to see Robert Cohen’s production, Abraham and Isaac in Jerusalem, has illuminated why, in all likelihood, this ambition will continue to elude me. For those who take theater seriously, UC Irvine occupies a special place. Since the 1970s, the program, which Cohen helped found, has been a haven for those who share a more European view of how theatrical expression connects to the ongoing project of “civilization.” Theater, from this perspective, is a uniquely embodied mode of feeling-thought that gives form to ineffable mysteries that would otherwise be inaccessible to us. Based on a medieval play, Cohen’s Abraham and Isaac illustrates this capacity, and manages to tap down into the deeper roots of our culture. Sadly, for me, the evening hinges on what can only be described as a Koons moment.

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