Strong outing for `Sight Unseen'

Critic's Corner//Theater

November 02, 2006|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,sun theater critic

In Sight Unseen, Donald Margulies' 1991 play about a superstar painter, the artist admits that his paintings deal with "unspeakable things."

Many unspeakable things get spoken - hostilities, jealousies, heartbreak - in the course of Margulies' examination of modern art, modern life and modern angst, which is receiving an intense production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre.

Director Barry Feinstein stages the play with the eye of an artist. The first image could be called "Still Life with Four Figures." But though all of the figures start out still, Mark Poremba, as artist Jonathan Waxman, breaks that stillness with the excessive cheerfulness of someone who is both egotistical and uneasy.

In England for a retrospective of his work, Waxman has arranged to visit his college girlfriend, a woman he hasn't seen for 15 years and who is now leading an almost reclusive life married to and working with a British archaeologist.

The uncomfortable interaction among these three characters colors every word and action. When Claire Bowerman's Patricia shows Waxman an early portrait he painted of her, Poremba stares - first at her, then at the portrait. When he reacts favorably to the picture, she just stares at him. Emotionally, these two are always at least one step out of step.

As Patricia's husband, Nick, Mark Steckbeck makes little effort to conceal Nick's unfavorable reaction to playing host to his wife's former lover. Initially, his hostility takes the form of silence; when he does speak, drink in hand, he bluntly eschews tact, particularly on the subject of Waxman's wealth.

Most artists are outsiders of one sort or another. Poremba's Waxman isn't just an outsider in Nick and Patricia's home, however; he also seems to be an outsider in his own life. When he's interviewed by a German art critic (Jane Steffen), he takes umbrage at her questions about his Jewish background. But is he reacting to perceived anti-Semitism or to his discomfort with his roots - a discomfort that also surfaces in a flashback to his mother's funeral?

In a sense, Jonathan Waxman is truly a wax man - an image of an artist, a son and a lover, but never quite the thing itself. Director Feinstein's production, however, is the thing itself - finely wrought, sensitively acted and just plain artistic.

Sight Unseen continues through Nov. 19 at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St. Tickets are $15. Call 410-276-7837.

Four women of history

The Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, 11 W. Mount Vernon Place, will be the site of a four-part Baltimore Living History Theatre Series, beginning Sunday when Tamara Johnson depicts Laura Keene (1826-1873), an actress who was on stage at Washington's Ford's Theatre when Lincoln was shot.

Produced by the Heritage Theatre Artists' Consortium, here's the rest of the series: Nov. 19: Ella Joeline Gutman Hutzler (1855-1942), portrayed by Harriet Lynn, who will accompany her performance with a slide tour of Baltimore's downtown department stores; March 25: Mary Elizabeth Garrett (1854-1915), a founder of Bryn Mawr School and a philanthropist who ensured the admission of women to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (portrayed by Yvonne Erickson); and April 15: Ella Shields (1879-1952), a Baltimore native who achieved fame in vaudeville as a male impersonator (portrayed by Lynn).

All performances begin at 2 p.m. The two November performances are free as part of Free Fall Baltimore, but reservations are required. Tickets to the spring performances are $14. For reservations or information call 410-235-4457, visit h-tac.com or email hlynn@umbc.edu.

j.wynn.rousuck@baltsun.com

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