note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Teri Wilkinson
It is the character relationships that engage us from start to finsh in Donald Margulies SIGHT UNSEEN, a play about 'art and the business of art.' The main characters being an artist and his artschool lover support this, as does an intense London art gallery interview. Add to these a damnably-opinionated harangue on the questionable value of post-Renaissance art, notably that of the of the main character, and this play has more than enough brewing to sustain its vitality as it journeys on. The background music certainly is a balm.
The artist, American, Brooklyn-Jewish self-absorbed Jonathan Waxman, brilliantly fleshed out by David Mason, has gained great fame on the art scene, while having lost what once made art all he ever wanted to do. Though his love affair with the artschool model ended painfully and has remained unresolved and unspoken to for fifteen years, it happened at a pivotal moment: a time of honest inspiration . She was his muse. Their relationship fed him as an artist.
Now he's about to have his first European show in London, and has chosen to reconnect with Patricia in the home she shares with her husband Nick in rural England. Before a full screen backdrop of serene blue sky with a few wisps of cloud, we meet the artist as he walks through a striking post-and-beam framework-set into a farmhouse kitchen to find Nick seated at the table. He struggles along in an almost total monologue with Nick who is not really "painfully shy," but more of a simmering volcano waiting to erupt. Yet he's a Brit who, while masking his pain, bides his time, so that when his British humour strikes, it is causticly effective .
Keith Langsdale's brilliant characterization of Nick, the properly-reserved and long-suffering archaeology supervisor married by Patricia to obtain a green card, gives Sight Unseen its essential strength and saving wit. Without it, the 'Patty and Johnnie were lovers' scenario threatens to engulf the play. Their fifteen years of repressed anger, guilt and sufficiently- unexplored selves, bring to their renewed contact only exacerbation of their suffering and a dashing to pieces of each's longheld illusions about their 'love.'
Cate Damon gives a superbly worked portrayal of a mousey reclusive ex-patriot archaeologist who for all her commitment to struggling with a demanding lifestyle and a largely passionless marriage, has not found her way out of her past to a new life of her own. And kudos to Brianne Beatrice's art reviewer for that enigmatic smirk at the abrupt ending of a heated dialogue with the artist. Her character pointedly raised some very sensitive questions about honesty, deception, and manipulation in the context of Jonathan Waxman's career, and in the larger arena of Art itself.
This play asks for revelation, release, rebirth, but for all that's explored, confronted, argued, and challenged it might be called "INSIGHT UNSEEN" after all.