Monday, April 07, 2003

Credeaux Canvas (Ensemble Theater)

CREDEAUX CANVAS ‘-- Ensemble's last production at the Civic

Lucia Columbi, Artistic Director at Ensemble Theatre writes a somber message to theatre patrons in the program of their present show. It states, “The mounting of this production is a memorable one. It marks the last play Ensemble theatre will present at the Civic. After 18 years as the theatre’s home, it is fitting that we exit with a play about ‘art’.”

Rumor has it that Ensemble is in final negotiations for a new home. We hope so, for the theatre is an important link in the chain of small professional theatres. It is also hoped that, in the future, the theatre reaches out to present challenging shows like their present production, Keith Bunin’s ‘THE CREDEAUX CANVAS.’

The story centers on an interesting premise. When Jamie, the emotionally fragile son of a now-deceased art dealer, finds out he is cut out of his father’s will, he hatches a scheme whereby his roommate, a struggling artist, will create a “newly discovered” painting by Credeaux, an unknown but emerging European painter. The Credeaux canvas will be sold to a very wealthy, and supposedly very gullible, art collector. If it works, they'll be set for life. But if it doesn't...

On the surface it sounds like the potential for an excellent show. Unfortunately, in spite of acceptable performances by the cast, and some fine technical contributions, the total effect is not completely positive. The problem lies with Bunin’s dialogue. His characters often speak in platitudes, not real-sounding words. They describe their own and other’s psychological motivations, rather than allowing the audience to get to know the characters through their own statements. He often sounds like a someone who has taken one too many theoretical psychology classes. The result is an over-reaching and fragmented drama. His play keeps the viewer an arm’s distance away from feeling the emotions of the characters.

Bunin devotes most of the play's first scene into setting up the flim-flam to give us a view of Winston, the painter, Jamie, the schemer, and Amelia, Jamie’s girlfriend. Early in the second act we meet Tess, the potential buyer of the fake painting who eventually asks the right questions to blow the sham.

Winston, Jamie, and Amelia are three rudderless souls, and as such are recognizable. Jamie is the poor rich kid who doubts his own abilities. His contriving to compensate for what he feels he lacks only succeeds in making him believe in himself less. Amelia , who appears to have modest talent has come to New York to make a splash. She slowly realizes she's wading aimlessly through puddles rather than getting swept into the mainstream. Winston is a compulsive loner who can only see the path he's set himself on, a path on which he stumbles and eventually falls.

Colombi’s directing is generally on target, though she may have helped the performers by working on shadowing the intentions of the writer. She is aided by Vincent Polowy’s set which fulfills its purpose. His lighting design does much to key the required perceptible elements of the play, allowing us to visualize the painting elements described.

Sherri Britton is wonderful as Tess. She captivates the audience as she describes the depth of meaning of the painting. Joel Nunley’s Winston is inconsistent. He stumbles through some of his lines but does allow us to see many of the nuances of the character in the spite of being given some very superficial lines to speak. Michael John Sestili has some fine moments as Jamie, but is generally on the surface. Only part of that is his fault. The author has often given very little motivations for developing a meaningful character. Caise Rode, like Sestili, often gets little help from the script in developing a multi-leveled character.

Be aware that there is male and female nudity in the production, thus the warning that the production is for mature adults. It is artistically done. We see both Rode and Nunley mostly in silhouette, with their bodies bathed in light that makes each appear as carved marble statues.

Capsule judgment: In spite of a fascinating concept, the production does not live up to the potential.