Studies for a Portrait - London (OWE) 2009
May 21, 2009
Exploring one art form through another is hard to make work. But Daniel Reitz’ STUDIES FOR A PORTRAIT has much more going for it than an esoteric discussion of art.
It takes place in the final months of the life of fictional iconic artist Julian, with his much younger boyfriend Chad his constant companion. Chad meanwhile has another boyfriend, even younger Justin, who later strips to be painted by Julian. (A relationship not so much ‘open’ as ‘gaping’.) The initially unwelcome appearance of Julian’s former long-time lover Marcus returning to see Julian before he dies completes the play’s quartet. Reitz writes with delicacy, humility and intelligence in a play which is more interested in studying characters than art.
David Price gives easily the best performance of the night as Marcus, and is – in his final scene- genuinely touching. Michael Parr as lust-object Justin plays an unselfconscious character appealingly unselfconsciously, not least in his brief nude scene. Martin Sendel grew on me as Julian but the character’s growly voice (slightly reminiscent of Yosemite Sam) was quite a distraction earlier on and it took a while to care about him. Brodie Bass, as the Bosie-lite central character Chad, lacks the charisma or warmth to hold the evening, playing every line at the same volume, pace and intensity and lacking the chemistry with his two lovers to make one see why they’d put up with his self-regard and bitchiness.
The production, though, doesn’t help the actors or the play. The pace is very slow and unvaried; the lighting design (until the beautiful final image) is surprisingly bland; and the sound design is nonsensical, playing (too loud) mostly entirely inappropriate country-rock music which feels like it’s been selected at random from the director or sound designer’s music collection. The higher calibre of writing from Reitz deserved a higher class of artistic response. More credit can be offered to Gareth Corke’s classy costume designs which suit the characters brilliantly and is a cut above the other artistic ingredients.
The story and most of the writing are strong and engaging and Daniel Reitz is clearly a writer of sensitivity and intelligence. And it is terrific that Oval House is allowing a larger audience to hear his work. It’s a shame, therefore, that the production does so little to showcase the play’s strengths. A play about art has fallen, sadly, some way short of being art itself.