Sight Unseen at Everyman Theatre

A few months ago I saw Betrayal at Everyman Theatre. When I heard they were doing Sight Unseen, I thought that Deborah Hazlett (who played Emma) would be really great in the lead female role.

A few months ago I also saw Brooklyn Boy at Olney Theatre Center. I saw that Paul Morella (Eric Weiss) had played Jonathan in Olney’s production of Sight Unseen. I wish I could have seen that, I thought, I bet he was good.

Tuesday night I attended Everyman’s production of Sight Unseen. Hazlett was playing Patricia and Morella was playing Jonathan. Couple that with my love of this play and I needed nothing else to be excited.

Sight Unseen tells the story of a famous Jewish American painter, Jonathan Waxman, who has come to London for his first European solo show. He feels a little lost, and he takes the opportunity to visit his college girlfriend, Patricia. They have not seen each other for fifteen years. Patricia is living in England, working as an archeologist with Nick (Bob Rogerson), her older husband.

The play doesn’t move in a linear fashion, it jumps around in time and we see in several scenes the time Jonathan spends at Nick and Patricia’s, the interview he has the next day with Grete (Karen Novack), the day fifteen years ago when Jonathan breaks up with Patricia during shiva for his mother, and the day seventeen years ago when they first talk after Patricia has sat nude all day for Jonathan’s art class.

Hazlett and Morella were every bit as good as I expected them to be. In fact, Morella was even better than he was in Brooklyn Boy. He was spot on with Jonathan’s charming arrogance. He is particularly effective in the final scene, when we see the innocent and just a little bit frightened kid Jonathan used to be.

Though the plot of the play seems simple (old lovers meeting up again), the play is decidedly complex. We are given crumbs and hints about the characters and their past. Motivations are never completely clear. The performances contain depth and evidence of the pain of the past. The structure of the play reveals if not the causality (for it would be too simple to claim that A led directly to B), at least the interconnectivity of the events in the lives of the characters. The events of the past are intermingled and tangled together, influencing and changing the perspective of the present.

There is a large wall backstage; on it hung two large canvases, one of which is the painting of Patricia that Jonathan did when he was a student. There are two other angled walls, further downstage on the left and the right. They provide additional entrances. This is the set for the interview scenes, very clearly a gallery. For the other scenes set pieces such as a desk, a bed, a stove, cabinets, etc roll on. An additional wall covering the wall with the paintings completes the scenes in Nick and Patricia’s farmhouse and Jonathan’s boyhood bedroom. The set changes are slow, but surprisingly, they work. Their pace allows the audience to adjust to the shifting time of the piece and ages of the characters (and I suspect give the actors more time to change costumes).

It is a top notch production, and I only have two very slight criticisms. Rogerson was appropriately gruff and cold as Nick. But his interpretation of the character left out a deliberate edge of hostility, which I think is clear in the text. He is often confronting Jonathan about Patricia and about his art, and I felt Rogerson was a little too sincere. I think the part works better when Nick is intentionally provoking Jonathan. Also, the scene where Jonathan breaks up with Patricia by telling her that he didn’t want her around and that he didn’t love her was played in a lower key than I have seen before. It works in the scene itself, and it works in the small space at the Everyman theatre, but I felt it took a little away from the show as a whole. After all, we are to suppose that Patricia and Jonathan never really got over the way their relationship ended.

4 stars
Through October 7th


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