The Credeaux Canvas
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
September 9, 2009
A new production of Keith Bunin's play by a new group called Seeing Place Theatre had its first performance last night at Shetler Studio's Bridge Theater. The company has staged the play with resourceful energy and its core members are acting and directing as well as providing set design and props. In the audience I ran into an actor I know, and she had provided the cot that's onstage. Networking—it's great.
The play is a love story of sorts, set in a seedy apartment in the Village, where two young men share the space and the rent. Winston is an artist and Jamie is the emotionally confused son of one of the most powerful art dealers in New York, a man who seems to have been rather mean and unpleasant to his son, though no details are given. Jamie's mother died when he was young and the stepmother has her own kids. Amelia, played by Anna Marie Sell, is Jamie's current girlfriend, and she's been almost living with him for the last six months. As the play opens she has come out of his room to check out the roommate's space. He's asleep, but she wakes him up.
Winston, a reticent and withdrawn artist played by Brandon Walker, the artistic director of the company, really doesn't want to know anything about her: she's Jamie's girl; but she persists and goes on to tell him things about herself and her feelings for Jamie, none of which Winston wants to hear.
Jamie then appears, having been at the reading of his father's will that very morning. Having been completely left out of the will, he tries to make light of it, but he's desperate, lost, and needy. He pathetically clings to Amelia, who barely seems interested in him beyond his being a cute and charming lover, and she wonders about him out loud to Winston. "Do you think he loves me?" Winston covers his ears but does not escape.
Jamie has hatched a scheme to make them all money. They will sell a forgery of a "lost Credeaux canvas" to one of Jamie's father's wealthy clients, whom Jamie thinks is a dim wit, but she loves pictures. Winston is a master copy artist, he can do it. There are a number of complications that follow and it doesn't quite turn out the way they hoped.
The play is engaging, the dialogue often double-edged and sharp, and the characters are complex and troubled. They are on the cusp of adolescence and adulthood, wrestling with poverty and ambition. Now everything hinges on the undercurrents of powerful emotions and desires that propel these characters to their desperate deeds, and then the subtle shifting of alliances, the betrayals; it's juicy stuff. Alas, not here.
It's understandable, opening night of the first production of a brand new company of young and talented individuals, that there might be jitters. In this case the actors nearly levitate with energy, and certainly they are jumpy and busy for two hours, with a ten minute intermission. This is no substitute however, for engaging emotionally with one another, and some of the scenes need intense calm and electric emotion. Almost every scene could be smoldering with pent-up needs and emotion. The artist and his subject surely should have a palpable chemistry, which does not show itself in the least between these two. And as the sort of ne'er-do-well Jamie, Joseph Mancuso is one-note, fidgety, and rushed. Everyone needs to calm down and get over opening night.
The director, Lillian Wright, is charming, intelligent, and inexperienced as a director. Her efforts seem hesitant and unsure, but her staging is fine and as she does more work, she has the potential to get the job done. The cast is probably up for the challenge, they just need to act with confidence and go for it. This is only a five-day run, so they may not have the time to develop the deeper emotional connections and nuances, but that's what's needed.
Wright has designed a beautiful and simple set with an eye for detail, and it's reflected in the device she uses for showing the Credeaux canvas. It's a device that would work well for all the paintings featured during the evening, to give a sense of consistency rather than asking us to see some pictures and then keeping others from us. There's magic here, why mess with it?
My only other complaint was the addition of pop music songs with lyrics that were to enhance, compliment, explain (I'm not sure) some of the scenes, but disrupted the flow of the drama and made me annoyed again at the influence of TV on just about everyone and everything. Live theatre, canned mood music? You decide. The lighting design by Christopher Michael Ham serves the play well.
In spite of my reservations, the two hours went briskly, and I enjoyed watching the players. Jerilyn Sackler as Tess, is perfect as the buyer. She conveys her awe and pleasure at seeing great art, and adds a bit of art appreciation education in the process. The play itself has a few weaknesses. It talks too much in places and the ending is weak. I could have skipped finding out about how everyone ends up six years later; anticlimactic after the intensity, but some playwrights find it hard to end their plays, maybe that's the problem here. And did I mention there is nudity?
Criticism can inspire and illuminate as well as let the public know about a show they ought to see or not. As evenings of theatre go, this one is worth checking out. For a debut event, the production of The Credeaux Canvas by Seeing Place Theatre shows signs of good things to come.