Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
The Bakelite Masterpiece
Also see Zander's review of Hairspray
Confined to a holding cell of sorts as World War II draws down, Han van Meegeren (Adkins), an artist, grapples with his recent arrest and possible implications. A Dutchman, he is an expert forger and has made a living by painting in the style of masters. It seems that he sold a Vermeer look-alike to Hermann Göring. That work was entitled "Christ and the Women Taken in Adultery." Thus, Meegeren was thought to collaborate with Nazis and is being tried. He now has created, in his defense, another "Vermeer" to prove his point.
Geert Piller (May) is certain that the artist is guilty and, as a captain, a dedicated military presence, she intends to prosecute the man. She is also an art historian. Van Meegeren persuades Pillar to bring him supplies so that he can painther in a blue dress. If he convinces her that he can create a perfect fraud of a painting, he believes his life will be spared. She discards her uniform, replaces it with the dress, and poses for him. She, however, is sure that he has been a collaborator. Further, she is aware that people in Holland would more than appreciate the accusation of an individual who committed a war crime.
When the taut presentation begins, the artist speaks of Lucifer (the fallen angel intent on opposing God). Later, he becomes a man who relies upon gin and morphine to survive. Piller, emotionless during the early going, begins, by increments, to warm to the man. She eventually assists with his morphine supply.
Both of the actors (who happen, in actual life, to be married) are superb. Adkins has the richer part and his rendering is prolific, through nuance, detail, and full embodiment of his character. He is also, as the production opens, quite verbal. It is, in every sense, a bravura performance. May, for a time, has less to do. She must be dispassionate and ever disciplined. An actress who has embraced (in many Berkshire-based performances for a couple of decades) some sympathetic characters, she must play against that type. Hers is an understanding, detailed depiction. Together, these actors are penetrating and acute. Relating to one another, as directed by van Ginhoven, they, within the close confines of the Unicorn, also take in observers seated in the house.
Playwright Cayley chooses van Meegeren, an actual Dutch artist who did forge paintingsand fictionalizes. Kristen van Ginhoven, whose parents were immigrants from Holland, was told of this play which was first produced in Canada a couple of years ago. She and Kate Maguire, BTG Artistic Director, thought to bring it to the Unicorn, with Adkins and May.
David Adkins (who has appeared numerous times at BTG and during recent summers played Henry David Thoreau and Edgar Allen Poe) controls his role from his first appearance. Juliana von Haubrich's set is fittingly stark and bleak. Above van Meegeren, one sees a few tree branches and broken windows. Deborah A. Brothers outfits him in a worn shirt and trousers; he is somewhat but not totally askew. Later, the painter wears a suit jacket. Adkins harnesses his energy, sometimes speaks with spirited bursts, and is not all that despondent. He and Corinna May, through direction and interpretation, fully realize the arc of this play, one lasting but an hour and a quarter. The actors are isolated, then figuratively dueling, then appear to be coming together. This two-hander, most impactful, ends on a complex note.
The Bakelite Masterpiece utilizes specific scripting and highly adept actors who, through comprehension and physically expressive turns, fill the evening with keen knowledge of the text. They are not laboring but, instead, become beautifully intense. The artist says, "I am a perfect fraud." Watch for the impeccable instants (one following the other) when van Meegeren positions, first, her right hand and then her chin before he begins to paint Piller. Memorable.
The Bakelite Masterpiece, presented by Berkshire Theatre Group and WAM Theatre, continues at the Unicorn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, through October 23rd, 2016. The theater is situated on the grounds of BTG. For tickets, call (413) 997-4444 or visit www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org.