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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
IMPRESSIONISM
at the Gerald Schoenfeld

GETTING THE HANG OF IT
By JESSICA BRANCH

  Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons

Let's face it: At this point in history, the headshots of acting icons Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen are still pretty-but getting a tad indistinct. That sense of fuzzy familiarity sets the tone for this soft-focus comedy by Michael Jacobs. The playwright's helped create many highly successful TV sit-coms, and this gentle romance distantly echoes that genre in both structure and sensibility. Take, for example, the clever staging of the Katherine Keener Gallery, which involves hanging paintings and screened frames that both display artwork and frame suggestive tableaux of the actors. The effect can be striking-but feels like a substitution for cinematic flashbacks and fadeouts. And it literalizes the play's overarching theme of what it expresses as the presbyopic lesson of impressionism - that sometimes you must shift perspectives to see better.

The story crosscuts strategically between the pale, peaceful gallery, where Katherine (Allen) and the inexplicably employed Thomas Buckle (Irons) engage in casual bickering and intellectual oneupmanship-but, as Thomas points out, rarely sell any art-and scenes from their separate pasts. This leisurely progress is "lnterrupted" occasionally by potential buyers wandering in to push the plot along or mirror its themes: a feisty matron (played by audience favorite Marsha Mason) who's been eyeing a Cassatt for her pregnant daughter -a young couple buying themselves a wedding present -an especially undiscerning collector (Michael T. Weiss) on whom Katherine's got a crush.

Living up to their star billing, Allen and Irons are eminently watchable: Irons revels in his prickly protagonist's quirks and brings real conviction to his eccentricities. He almost succeeds in making the overwritten fuddy-duddy role convincing-and does manage to lend it his own scraggly charm. But Allen really shines as the sometimes petulant (and always better-written) heroine. Having reached a certain age, Katherine seems to be a success, but is just as set in her ways as Thomas is in his-and apparently subject to a fretfulness that combines equal parts of discontent and disappointment with life. Yet Allen reveals the vulnerability underlying Katherine's sometimes offputting candor-and to show that they're opposite faces of the same coin. When she tries to explain why a particular painting is a negative portrayal of marriage, not the celebration its potential buyers think it to be, she's peremptory and sure of her ground, but just as definite in her capitulation when she's proven wrong - she's not so much a pedant as a solipsist surprised-happily-out of herself.

While the actors weave their stories together skillfully, moving between the shifting perspectives that the play hammers home are the essence of impressionism, the problem is the big-picture play itself. It has aspirations to artfulness-its leitmotifs, its elaborate construction, the self-conscious articulateness of its dialogue-but all its not-inconsiderable art ultimately veils a slight, if sweet, story that's so predictable the only element of suspense is who'll play opposite Hugh Grant when the movie comes out. The play's shortcomings notwithstanding, it does achieve real moments of tenderness-and gives rise to touching performances from its two protagonists. And, for a play about the necessity of new perceptions and expectations, perhaps that's enough.

 

 


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