Jon Robin Baitz's "Ten Unknowns" which is finishing off the season for the Huntington Theatre Company at the Mystic Theatre, to give the place its original name, is a 1995 one-act that could have grown up to be a nice little HBO movie, but somehow detoured to Lincoln Center to become a Broadway hopeful. After a short run last March with Donald Sutherland in the lead that project fell apart. Versatile Ron Rifkin , who's worked with Baitz on a number of projects, stars in this production playing an '30s figurist painter who exiled himself to Mexico to escape abstract impressionism - or something like that. His performance is worth the admission, for while Baitz' dialogiue has real facility, his playwrighting creaks with a constant inflow of exposition and obvious symbolism. The evening certainly reminds the audience that Rifkin can be more that the mild-mannered villain in the complex world of "Alias", T.V.s revival of the "Perils of Pauline."
The other three cast members, two young New York actors, T.Scott Cunningham and Trevor Fabricant, plus Kathryn Hahn - last seen here as "Drina" in Dead End - possibly just written out of "Crossing Jordan" - aren't much more than foils. As they bounce around the stage, their overdrawn characters never become really convincing. The whole cast is somewhat overshadowd by designer Adam Stockhausen's cluttered set looming over the proceedings. The rainstorm works though. And Ru Jun Wang's prop paintings done to Stockhausen's specs are actually believable as works of art.
In the final scene what's been billed as an incisive comedy (the few one liners are most digs at the art world) turns into slightly bathetic melodrama. The play, directed by Yale acting teacher Evan Yionoulis, is no better or worse than most modern attempts to tackle moral issues. The question raised however, the connection between art and commerce, is essentially trivial and its solution almost 19th century. Methinks the playwright may be considering his own situation. Too much Ibsen? But on the whole, less tiresome than HTC's truncated "Heartbreak House."