Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Secret of Mme. Bonnard's Bath

Israel Horovitz's play takes its time coming into focus - it jumps at a fast clip between two stories a couple of generations apart which seem at first to have only a banal connection - but after the play's structure and its purpose become more clear, this is an intelligent, often lovely little play which gently and playfully speaks to the eternal mysteries of love and to the immortality of art, among many other things. In the contemporary story, two young art students study Bonnard paintings and fight their attraction for each other; in the flashback story, Bonnard catastrophically gives in to his attraction for a woman he immortalizes in his paintings. While John Shea (credibly and vibrantly) plays only Bonnard, the other two actors - Michael Bakkensen and Stephanie Janssen (both very good except for a wobbly accent here and there) - are called upon to play all other roles, quick-changing behind the line of dress forms upstage. The "we're here right now putting on a show for you" feeling, also communicated in moments when the actors break character and tell us what we will soon see in the play or that it is time for intermission, gives the play a warmth to mitigate some of the cold truths it gently reveals. I'm happy to add, finally, that the art critic friend I attended with vouched for the play's historical credibility and accuracy relating to Bonnard: fact-based art scholars probably have nothing to fear here.

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