Monday, March 30, 2009

Review: Impressionism


Play Fails to Make a Good Impression

By Lauren Yarger
Imagine a couple you’ve just met hasn’t made a great impression. He’s pompous, she’s uptight and they both seem to be spoiled rich people who have nothing better to do than sit around being discontent. Suddenly, he sets up a projection screen and starts showing slides of a trip he took and she whips out a family photo album. A few far more interesting acquaintances of the couple stop in, but they don’t stay long enough for you to get to know them or offer an escape and you’re stuck looking at your watch wondering whether you’ll make it through 90 minutes.

Congratulations, you have just experienced Michael Jacobs’ play Impressionism, wasting the fine acting talents of Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen and Marsha Mason directed by Jack O’Brien at the Schoenfeld Theater on Broadway.

Katharine Keenan (Allen) owns a fine art gallery where Impressionist works are displayed. A photograph of a young boy in Africa taken by her employee, Thomas Buckle (Irons), also has a place on the wall, but he has vowed never to snap another shot until he sees something of “real joy.” Their days are filled with a light banter as Thomas shares endless stories about coffee (believe me, I didn’t need to know where those coffee beans come from), and Katharine gets really excited about her favorite muffins at the bakeshop on Tuesdays.

Occasionally a client comes in: Julia Davidson (Mason) wants a Cassat painting of a mother and child for her daughter who is getting married; Douglas Finch (Michael T. Weiss) has commissioned a nude for Katharine to sell; a young engaged couple (Aaron Lazar and Margarita Levieva) wants a painting of an elderly couple on a park bench as the first purchase for their new home.

Katharine refuses to sell the art, however, (she must have a private trust fund to support the gallery, Thomas’ salary and costume designer Catherine Zuber’s chic business suits), because they evoke memories for her. The Cassat reminds her of when she was 6 when her father walked out on her and her mother. The memory is recounted in a flashback with Hadley Delany playing the young Katharine and Irons and Allen playing the parents. All of the memories connected with the paintings are told with the same technique: an awkward attempt to freeze the action while set pieces (Scott Pask, design) and projections of paintings on a scrim and in frames (Elaine J. McCarthy, design) along with recorded music by Bob James are introduced to tell us we’re taking a trip down memory lane. In case we don’t get it, a script message telling us that this is a memory of Katharine at age 6, etc., is projected on the scrim as well.

The nude triggers a memory of Katharine at age 30, falling in love with a painter who wants her to pose for him. She realizes she’s been led on by the artist (played by Irons) when his mistress (Levieva) shows up, followed by his wife (Mason). The park bench painting, it turns out, is his work.

Meanwhile, Thomas’s photograph triggers a scene change to Tanzania, Africa where a kind and joyful villager, Chiambuane (Andre De Shields) poses for Thomas' photos. Mason has a few lines as a doctor treating a terminally ill young boy (the one in the photo) whom Thomas wants to bring home. Why Thomas is unable or willing to help any of the other children in Africa when the one featured in the photo dies, we don’t know.

Will Katharine and Thomas be able to step back from their memories, squint at each other and see each other in a different light? Is life impressionism or realism? The reality here is that the minor characters are much more interesting. Mason lights up the stage for the brief moments she’s there, like a splash of color stroked across a white canvass. DeSields brings to life Chiambuane and, in a second role, the elderly baker of Katharine’s coveted muffins, but they aren't around long enough to develop. Even Lazar’s brief stint as the groom-to-be stirs more interest than the main characters.

The opening of Impressionism was postponed a week for extensive rewrites and restructuring. It still doesn’t work. The choice of another play to showcase the talents of Irons, Allen, Mason and the rest, would have made a better impression.

Impressionism, originally scheduled to run through July 5 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St., New York, will close May 10. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250 or visit http://www.impressionismtheplay.com/.

Christians might also like to know:
• Many of the paintings are of nude women

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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