Lily Balsen as Fatima, Jonathan Tindle as Oliver Davenport
by Eugene Paul
Alex Draper as Leo Katz, Tosca Giustini as Gabriella Pecs,
Jonathan Tindle as Oliver Davenport
mysteriously excited Gabriella Pecs, (Tosca Giustini) has led worldly art
historian Oliver Davenport (Jonathan Tindle) to an ancient ruin of a Romanesque
church, begging him for just five minutes. She leads him to the back wall and,
with his help, removes some large stones. We can see that something has been
hidden behind the stones. Davenport recognizes the style immediately. What he
can see looks like the work of Giotto. Which is impossible. This is the wrong
place. The apparent age indicates it’s the wrong timing. This work is earlier
than Giotto. Or so Gabriella, herself an art curator, has come to believe.
But she is too young and does not have the cachet of a Davenport opinion. The
art world would be turned upside down if –
the rigmarole begins along with the long task of removing the stones to reveal
the entire wall painting. Whose claims of ownership are already conflicting,
even before the absolute authentication? The Orthodox Church involves itself,
as does the Catholic Church, both religions sending emissaries to see that
things are done properly in their behalves. If, indeed, they have any position
at all, according to the local authorities. Soldiers are posted. Ministers
from the state itself are invoked. A judge is sent to adjudicate. Everyone has
his view. And then, a bombshell: another art historian, Leo Katz (Alex
Draper), American, quite disparaging of Davenport’s British expertise. Tempers
rise. Gabriella Pecs wants to move the painting to the national gallery once
Davenport says it can be done. Katz says it cannot be done.
(L-R): Christo Grabowski as Father Petr Karolyi, Nina Silver as
into their war, the real war bursts. A ragged crowd of refugees, armed, take
over the site. They are fleeing persecutions from violent fates in a dozen
countries, need safe shelter where they can attempt to protect themselves.
Playwright David Edgar has turned his art intrigues into the fodder for the
saving of lives as opposed to the saving of art. Or the saving both, if
possible, in this world where life is cheap and art is expensive. He builds our
sympathies in one direction and then another. In the process, the histories
and the lives of the people clash among themselves. The art historians are
forced to exchange their clothes with several of the refugees in order to
disguise the refugees for an added level of protection and to confuse the
who is this enemy? Even opposing regimes wish to keep the painting from harm;
its potential value is staggering. For the humans, however, infant to elder,
invaders of this once sacred space, their values have to be worked out: who is
worth saving, who is not, which can be repatriated, which are thrown aside. Can
the painting itself save all their lives?
Cheryl Faraone knows that to keep the ideas going it is vital to have her
characters be seen as human as possible so that we are not confronted with
stereotypes and agit-prop, so that we become invested, begin to put our own
values on the line. I particularly liked Jonathan Tindle, Alex Draper, Nina
Silver, Lawrence Nathanson and Matt Ball. A unique, priceless artifact, a
creation of the finest in the human psyche, precious to the world, versus a
gypsy baby, a gypsy mother, a Bosnian, a Kurd, a Palestinian Kuwaiti, an Azeri,
a Mozambican, an Afghan, a Ukrainian, a Russian, how can we decide?
Faraone’s success is also playwright Edgar’s success. The potentially unwieldy
becomes as interesting and involving as both exercise and entertainment. Quite
as captivating is the changing work on the huge, mysterious painting, the most
important feature in set designer Mark Evancho’s impact on the play. Designer
Jule Emerson provides a welter of story telling costuming and Hallie Zieselman
and Aubrey Dube offer effective, evocative sound and light. Withal, as
worthwhile and pleasurable an evening of theater as you will currently find.
Stage 2, 330 W. 16TH St. Tickets: $35, $18 students, seniors.
PTPNYC.org or 1-866-811-4111. 2hrs, 45 min. Thru Aug 10.