Review by Tulis McCall
(2 Jun 2010)
In the frontispiece of her script Ms. Shearer writes "Everything about The David is true; everything else is fiction." And there is some pretty fascinating stuff about The David, as if the fact the sculpture is called THE David and not just David were not reason enough to sit up and pay attention.
And yada yada yada. But the fiction part – the story of Restoration is the tale of a middle aged woman Giulia (Claudia Shear) whose obsession with cleaning has given her a career. She is a restorer, and when it comes time to clean The David, she proves to be the gal for the job. Giulia is also a little in love with the David. She doesn't have a lot else going on for her in her life so a marble statue of the perfect guy seems a safe object onto which she can project her desires...
And, predictably, this all turns out to be the myth of the ugly duckling becoming a swan. Sort of. Giulia has to meet her loneliness head on while surrounded with beautiful Italian women she envies and one Italian guy she comes to care for almost as much as she does that big hunk of marble. She travels the heroes’ journey to find her own life.
Ms. Shearer is an engaging person on the stage when she is talking directly to the audience. I never saw 'Blown Sideways Through Life' but I imagine it was quite good as it was pretty much a series of conversations between Shearer and the audience. But ultimately Restoration is more of a lesson on how not to create a play for oneself. At the moments Ms. Shearer engages us, everything works just fine. It is when she has to make the transition to being a character working another character she falters. In the acting trade we have a phrase for what an actor does when she is showing you rather than engaging you. It's called "Indicating," and Ms. Shear does plenty of it. Hers being the main character of the play, this situation puts the entire production at a severe disadvantage.
The rest of the cast is quite fine, especially Jonathan Cake (Max). As the Italian guard who not only watches over The David but is its protector as well, he is captivating. His accent comes and goes, but you forgive him that because he is electric, even when he is not speaking. Alan Mandell, when given the chance, is elegant and eloquent as the Professor who first inspired Giulia with his story of the David. It is a special treat to hear him recount the tale toward the conclusion of the play. Tina Benko (Daphne) and Natalija Nogulich (Marciante/Beatrice/Nonna) are actors of substance who round out the story with style.
There is one excellent scene near the top of the play in which Giulia speaks fluent Italian as she describes her restoration technique to the panel overseeing the project. In the next moment she morphs into English. This is very clear: she is still speaking Italian but we will hear her in English. That would have been fabulous but all the Italians speak English and keep their Italian accents, like in the old movies where people in another country spoke English to one another in the accent du jour. In addition, The David is hidden from us for nearly the entire play. We see bits of him enlarged as Giulia is working, but they are often neither what we want to look at nor what is being discussed. When Daphne comments on David's butt we are faced with his chest and calf. And when the scaffolding is removed, what we see is not a replica of the David at all. It is an ill proportioned statue and a disappointment.
We learn bits and pieces about The David's provenance. Michelangelo completed the work in 1504, and the holes in his back are chip marks from locals who threw rocks at it when they were transporting the statue to its first home in the Piazza della Signoria. This is a statue unlike others of its time because it depicts a person not in triumph but in repose. This is a man who did not dress for battle – he undressed.
Ms. Shear does succeed in making The David much more than a statue. He is a being of legend and grace. The mortals, who devote themselves to his care and survival, if they are to be placed on the stage with The David, must be shown to possess qualities that will stand up and be counted in comparison. That is the writer's job. Ms. Shear does not do her characters, especially her own, the justice they deserve.