Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Also see Fred's recent review of The Winter's Tale
Neil Patel's set, at the outset, shows a few paintings and two busts in a spare museum room. Henry (Michael Chenevert) is a veteran, erudite gallery guard who explicates what he sees and, further, his outlook upon life and times. He looks to the audience and the unseen "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer," a cherished brilliant work. Henry is well-versed in Rembrandt's gift when it comes to color. Brandon Espinoza plays Jonny, a tougher type who is a security guard. Enter Dodger (Ephraim Birney) with a cool Mohawk, fringed blue at its apex–a youthful guard type who hopes to move up the ranks at the museum. Dodger, eccentric and audacious, also creates art. Madeline (Amber Reauchean Williams) is the sole woman on hand and, as a self-described copyist, her task, as a student, speaks for itself.
Three out of the four individuals touch the painting and, in a flash, everyone is propelled into another era wherein Rembrandt (Chenevert) is the focal point. Williams plays his anxiety-ridden wife and Birney his son, who is named Titus. This scene yields to Part 3 which occurs in 800 BC at a temple in Greece. Michael Bryan French stood in during the opening night performance as Homer, who vocalizes about his "Odyssey" and "Iliad" in a lengthy monologue. TheaterWorks, just a few days earlier, called in the adept performer when Bill Buell (cast originally and perhaps returning) became ill. To everyone's credit, French is excellent.
Playwright Dickey brings us back to the present day. Chenevert's Henry is in a room with his husband Simon (French), who has Stage 4 cancer and says, "You know you're going to die and you have no idea how," and proceeds with his thoughts and appraisals.
The Rembrandt is an atypical play which is at times transfixing. Jessica Dickey writes independent pieces to compose a whole, and while some moments are more captivating than others, the culmination is potent. Masterful art might live for centuries while human beings expire. The author carefully introduces workers: a painter whose work endures forever, a poet, a terminally ill man whose honesty is heartbreaking.
The multiple-focus script allows theatregoers the opportunity to pick and choose a priority, whether it be about friendship and love, the beauty of art, survival, or mortality. Memory is of great import as well. The Rembrandt is not a subtle play; its impactful messaging kind of sneaks in as the evening evolves. The presentation, as craft facilitates art, considers existence. It examines various realities which encourage those watching to ponder possibility.
Finally, a nod toward current Producing Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero, who directs this piece and has been working at TheaterWorks for three decades. He knows his performance space well and wisely brings in material that matches. Theatregoers sit close to the stage and even those several rows back should feel as if they are part of the proceedings. When, during portions of The Rembrandt, actors look into the audience as they speak of art's coloration and achievement, it's as if those on stage are speaking directly with observers. This is profoundly penetrating, and the whole production begs for further discussion.
The Rembrandt runs through May 14, 2023, at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, please call 860-527-7838 or visit www.theaterworkshartford.org.