It's moan and groan time at the Herberger again.
We've got yet another message/relationship play, this time called Sight Unseen. Written by Donald Margulies and staged by the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, it treats us to two hours of four dysfunctional characters explaining how they feel about each other. It's about as exciting as listening to your neighbors fight.

The main character in this evening of soul-searching is a successful modern artist, Jonathan Waxman. While in London to mount a retrospective of his work, he decides to look up an old girlfriend, Patricia. Neither she nor her husband is happy to see him. Anybody with common sense would have graciously backed out in two minutes flat, but Waxman doesn't leave and they don't kick him out because the whole point of the play is their two hours of arguing around the kitchen table.

A good deal of what they argue about involves domestic issues, and at various points, soap opera accusations are let fly: "I can't forgive you!", "I don't love you anymore!" and the like. Sordid facts are revealed: Patricia doesn't sleep with her husband, Nick, any longer; she married him not for love but to be able to stay in Britain.

Sight Unseen might have succeeded on this level if the characters were likable, but they're not. Jonathan is pompous and certain he's always right, Patricia insists she's happy when she looks suicidal, and her husband, Nick, alternates between being rude and being boorish.

The rest of the play's talk has to do with art, and listening to the Supreme Court or NEA hearings would probably be more entertaining. Nick tries to make Jonathan feel guilty for how much money he makes, calls his paintings pornography and declares that the last real art was produced in the Renaissance. Jonathan says it's not the artist's job to explain his work, all the while attempting to do so.

Jonathan also has trouble identifying himself and his work: Is he a Jewish artist, or an artist who happens to be Jewish? His work apparently has Jewish content--a painting he has done of an interracial couple having sex is set in a desecrated Jewish cemetery--but he practically goes berserk when a German blond bombshell of a journalist points this out to him. Surprise--they end up in a shouting match.

Director Matthew Wiener allows his actors to flog their lines to death--dramatic contrast is nonexistent and the tone of the play wanders from shouting to hysteria to evangelical fervor. The actors didn't act as much as scream monologues at each other, and despite the impressive flying sets, there was no real sense of forward motion. And somebody ought to tie actor Nicolas Glaeser's hands behind his back; it would be a welcome respite to watch him chew the scenery as a change from his incessant karate-chopping. Sight Unseen could have taken any one of its ideas and made it into an intelligent piece of theatre, but playwright Margulies never went further than putting together a laundry list of topics his characters churn through at maximum emotional speed. Neither the message nor the relationships matter, if the audience never cares about the characters.

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Kathleen Ellison