Impressionism

  • Date:
    March 1, 2009
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall.

    Phooey on this play. P-H-O-O-E-Y!!!!

    That�s my story and I�m stickin� to it.

    There should be a Tony award for a category along the lines of a CPR Award: Kept Play Alive Against All Odds. That award would be shared by Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen. These two actors are lovely to look at, delightful to know, and are the only reason this play may not be closed by the time you are reading this.

    Impressionism is the story of two people who inhabit an art gallery in what we assume is New York. This particular gallery has no name, no phone, and no art. Well, it has five pieces that fly in and out of the picture. One is retrieved by its owner because he has bought the original Modigliani painting for $38,000,000; an aquatint by Marie Cassatt is bought for a mere $42,000; another piece is given away, and one is sold for $50 a month in perpetuity. The remaining Chagall is � well, we are not quite certain of its fate. In fact we are not quite certain about most everything in this play.

    We are not certain what Thomas (Jeremy Irons) is doing in the gallery except providing coffee and stories about coffee, nor are we certain why Katharine (Joan Allen) is there because she is not selling the artwork in any big hurry on account of she is having a relationship with the pieces. We get to see her connection to the artwork in several flashbacks, none of which are illuminating. Katherine is a woman stuck in her past and afraid to be in love. Yawn. She is so afraid that she doesn�t notice Jeremy Irons under her nose for what we are told is two years. A person would have to be embalmed not to notice Mr. Irons.

    As well, Thomas is also stuck in the past, specifically Tanzania, where he journeyed as a photographer and met a young boy and tried to adopt him. The boy died before this could happen. Thomas no longer photographs and is consumed with regret. At least we think he is. Thomas drifts in and out of the past like someone in a slow moving revolving door and after awhile it�s difficult to tell which side he is on.

    Mr. Jacobs writing shows signs of life at various intervals. There are nuggets that make you sit up and pay attention. There is the banter between Allen and Irons, Marsha Mason�s observations on motherhood and grandmotherhood, and Andr� de Sheild�s seriously overacted but nonetheless charming explanation of a painting of a couple seated on a park bench. But none of these moments connects to any other. They are islands in a stream and do not a play make. There is one feeble attempt to connect life to impressionism, duh, in which Irons is forced to say that Ms. Allen�s concept of an expanded frame of visual reference comes as news to him. And he is a photographer?

    In the end, we care about Katharine and Thomas because we care about Allen and Irons. Not only do we care about them, we are proud of them for surviving this shipwreck. Few other actors could. Allen is clearly alive and vibrant, but must play a woman barely conscious. All Irons can do is strap himself in, articulate as best he can, and hope he survives. And at the final curtain, as they struggle out of the sea and collapse in each other�s arms, we nearly cheer because we realize that not only did THEY make it through but we have survived as well. Good news all around. Notify the media.

     

     

    A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    When we look at ourselves up close in the mirror, we see the little lines around our eyes, the slightly crooked tooth, and the gray coming in at the temples. But take a step back, then another, and the details give way to a more three-dimensional impression of ourselves that is usually more satisfying than the close-up, and we have that "aha" moment. Like when we look at a Renoir. Or Michael Jacobs' new play, "Impressionism."

    Set in an art gallery whose owner has a hard time parting with the masterpieces on the walls, Jacobs shows us in great detail what happens when we step back and take a look, not just at a painting, or ourselves, but at one another.

    The pictures on the walls of Katharine's gallery each tell a story, and customers who show an interest in buying are grilled by this proprietary owner to determine if they are truly worthy of owning one of the masterpieces. They leave, a bit taken aback by Katharine's behavior, but eventually return looking more and more wistful as they connect emotionally to a particular painting. For Katharine, it's important she know their motives for wanting to own a painting.

    Julia, played by the well-aged Marsha Mason, is a grandmother-to-be who is understandably drawn to the Mary Cassatt rendering of "Mother and Child" in the gallery. She wants the picture on her wall before the baby arrives and keeps coming to visit it. But as much as she wants it, she needs to dicker over the price.

    For Katharine, however, the picture has a powerful meaning which makes it hard to part with -- the Cassatt provides an entry, through flashbacks, into her memories of her moments with her own mother, and as we gain a little insight into what makes Katharine tick, our perceptions of her, Julia, and the painting change simultaneously. That step back.

    Thomas, Katharine's sort-of assistant, is also revealed in a flashback, to the time when he entered the gallery, cameras in tow. He is a world-renowned photojournalist who captured in vivid detail a special child's face in an African mangrove tree. The child haunts him as the photo haunts us and the question Katharine asks -- is life realism or impressionism -- hangs unanswered in the air.

    But ultimately, this is a play about love. Young love, old love, and middle-age love. A young, engaged couple enters the gallery interested in a Palmer painting of an elderly couple sitting on a park bench ostensibly ignoring each other. The couple see their love, but Katharine doesn't, just as she doesn't see Thomas'.

    Katharine, played by Joan Allen, more mature since her "Heidi Chronicles" days, looks stunning, and Jeremy Irons as Thomas is a treat at any age. So it's not a stretch to discover that Thomas has more to offer Katharine than benign comments about working in a gallery where the owner hates to make money, while ranting about the best coffee in the world coming from a very odd source.

    We wonder what took Katharine so long to see how Thomas looks at her as she eats her morning muffins, or why she wouldn't notice how elegantly attractive he is. But her perceptions change again as Thomas forces Katharine to step back and really look at what�s around her. She sees for the first time that all is not what it seems and her "aha" moment brings a neat closure to this play.

    Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus

     

     

    What the press had to say.....

    "undernourished play, which stars an ill-used Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen,"
    Ben Brantley
    New York Times

    "feels like a cut-and-paste work in progress." & "Why these talented stars (Joan Allen and Jeremy Irons) chose this shaky vehicle as their return is a mystery."
    Joe Dziemianowicz
    New York Daily News

    "it's a stupefying bore."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli
    New York Post

    "suffers from three major ailments: pretentiousness, trickery and triviality. "
    John Simon
    Bloomberg

    "offers warmth and sweetness, and has nicely tart undertones. But art it ain't."
    Elysa Gardner
    USA Today

    "emotional piffle wrapped in fancy dress" Linda Winner
    NewsDay

    "the result is a blobby, predictable mess rather than an intriguing collage."
    David Sheward
    Back Stage

    "makes little dramatic sense."
    Robert Feldberg
    The Record

    "a poorly conceived and clich�-ridden mess"
    David Cote
    Time Out New York

    "an elaborate if awkward romance � positively brimming with self-importance "
    Michael Kuchwara
    Associated Press

    "It's all terribly strained in its cleverness and terribly dull. "
    David Rooney
    Variety