What a Sight
Gifted playwright alert: Donald Margulies is in town, or at least one of his better plays is, in time to help wind up what's turned out to be a mediocre season and to remind us of what we'd have lost if the troubled Actors Theatre had succumbed to its recent financial woes. Margulies' Sight Unseen offers a glimpse into the world of the contemporary famous painter in a story that's reflective of the author's own. With artistic director Matthew Weiner at the helm, this play -- the last in AT's season -- is a winner, bringing together a fine cast and subtle direction to sell a story of sexual politics, anti-Semitism, and the value of art in popular culture.
Not unlike Margulies' best-known plays (Collected Stories and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner With Friends), Sight Unseen is a many-layered tale full of dramatic pause and plenty of punch lines. The illogical timeline follows a story of a relationship between painter Jonathon Waxman and his former lover, Patricia, who's now married to Nick, an archaeologist. In Europe for a retrospective of his work, Waxman visits the pair at their home in England. He's come to resolve his relationship with Patricia but, once there, rediscovers a portrait of her he painted as a young man and asks to borrow it for the show. The responses of each character to the painting and what it represents become the focal point of a multilayered story of love and loss that's never less than captivating.
With the exception of Natalie Messersmith, whose performance as a German journalist is as phony as her fake accent, the acting here is superb. I'm always delighted to see Maria Amorocho on stage, and here she's afforded the sort of rangy role she hasn't had in a while, playing high drama and terse comedy with equal style. Although her manner is sometimes oddly jolly during dramatic scenes, she's utterly convincing as both a needy, determined young adult and, in scenes set in the present, an accomplished if regretful grown woman.
In the lead, former Phoenician Nick Glaeser returns to remind us of what we've been missing since he left for the wider stages of New York. His Waxman is captivating, a nonstop wheel of emotion, all blustery ego and deep remorse at what he's left behind.
Both of these charming actors all but vanish once Ben Tyler opens his mouth to speak. As Patricia's droll but dreary archaeologist husband, Tyler is superb, finding belly laughs in mildly amusing bits of dialogue and making this man's sharp left turn at the end of the play all the more spectacular and unaffected.
Paul A. Black's hugely unsubtle lighting design -- punctuated with blasts of low white light whenever one of the principals is about to reveal something profound -- is among this production's few shortcomings. Jeff Thomson's death-defyingly raked set is faultless, and Connie Furr's understated costuming cleverly indicates time shifts while also informing the characters.
And these are people who need informing. Their ambiguity on the page is deliberate -- Margulies wants us to see his play as we would a painting, bringing our own interpretation to what we see -- and yet they're brought to vivid life by a solid cast who make this Sight worth seeing.
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