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Slow Revelations Fuel Fascination of 'Sight'

Theater Review

July 30, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES THEATER WRITER

At first sight, a part of just about anyone or anything goes unseen. This applies to all of the characters in Donald Margulies' "Sight Unseen," as well as to the play itself.

Those who have already seen this fascinating drama get a chance to uncover new aspects in a sharp revival at Long Beach Playhouse, and those who haven't can discover it.

Commissioned by South Coast Repertory and first presented there in 1991, the play may attract wider interest now because Margulies' reputation has grown significantly since then, thanks to "Collected Stories" (which recently closed at the Geffen Playhouse) and "Dinner With Friends," seen at South Coast last fall.

The chronology of "Sight Unseen" requires a little orientation, available by reading the sequence of scenes in the program. Throughout his play, Margulies takes us forward and backward in time. Though it may look confusing, the sequence of scenes increases the drama of the slow unveiling of the personalities of the fashionable artist Jonathan Waxman and his former lover Patricia.

As the play begins, Jonathan is visiting Patricia for the first time in years. She's an expatriate, living in rural England and working as an archeologist with her husband. Jonathan's a New York kid who has left behind a rigorously Jewish upbringing and become such a hot property in the art market that patrons buy his work "sight unseen." He's in London for his first gallery exhibition there.

Under Adam Kingl's direction, Michael Kaplan well embodies the lean and hungry look of someone who hoisted himself out of a more insular world into international fame. But Jonathan hasn't stopped searching for something better; he's afraid he might be a passing fad, and he wants to be fired up again by the impulses that made him an artist in the first place.

He thinks he might find them in Patricia, his former muse, or at least in a portrait of her that he once painted. He soon learns it's difficult to bring back the past. Still, the cast recaptures the couple's past beautifully in a couple of flashbacks. Cara Newman masterfully moves between the free-spirited, aggressive young Patricia and the more injured, more muffled woman of 15 years later.

Richard Ruyle establishes the character of Nick, Patricia's initially taciturn husband, with careful precision. And Patricia Thielemann couldn't be better as the German art critic whose trenchant questions reveal more about Jonathan than he wants to say--and also reveal a thing or two about the critic herself.

Like the play, Gary Wissmann's set revolves and reveals more than we realize at first. The music before and after the play is the only thing about this production that strikes a slightly superficial note.

*

* "Sight Unseen," Studio Theatre, Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; this Sunday, Aug. 22, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 28. $12-$15. (562) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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